Nine to Watch vs. Oakland

For as many as 704 current NFL players, the descent begins soon. On September 1, teams are required to pare their rosters down from 75 to 53. Teams can designate up to eight players to their practice squads the next day, which means that a maximum of 256 will survive that particular purgatory.

For hundreds of young men with football dreams, there's nothing but limbo. Not even an NFL Europa to hope for anymore.

For all the players on the bubble, this fourth and final preseason game - the "most meaningless" according to most pundits – is, in fact, an emotionally brutal battle for survival. One last chance to add to a strong training camp and save your career; one last opportunity to buck a trend of disappointing performance that has coaches, writers and fans writing your professional eulogy.

Not all of the nine players listed below are a few days away from unemployment, but the specter hangs close enough to force an urgency not seen in other exhibition contests. Watch this one closely, dear readers – though the starters might play one series at most, the drama will be high and sharp.

QB David Greene: After three years in the Seahawks' system, it's beyond safe to say that patience with the 2005 third-round pick from Georgia has worn down to the nub. Greene has shown sporadic production in past preseasons, but he's never looked consistently outstanding in training camp and his three interceptions in the 48-13 loss to the Packers on August 18 didn't help matters (though only two were really his fault). In the final preseason game of 2006 (also against the Raiders), Greene completed 13 of 19 passes for 144 yards – his best performance as a professional. In 2007, Greene's quarterback rating is an abysmal 8.6. If that number doesn't take a severe uphill hike, whatever has held David Greene on this roster since 2005 may finally snap.

FB Leonard Weaver: Missed blocks, dropped passes and overall inconsistency have marked the 2007 preseason for this fan favorite. The coaching staff was undoubtedly expecting a great deal from Weaver that they haven't yet seen. Halfback Marquis Weeks has led the team in rushing yards through the preseason, and that won't likely keep Weeks on the roster. Weaver is a different case because depth behind Mack Strong at fullback is heavily populated but thin from a production standpoint. Weaver most likely isn't playing for his job, but he needs to stand out, and the Seahawks need him to stand out. At his best, Weaver is an interesting HB/FB/receiver hybrid that could be very difficult to stop. But with 35 yards on 15 carries (longest carry: 10 yards – that means a lot of stuffs), he hasn't been displaying his best.

WR Courtney Taylor: The rookie from Auburn hurt his knee in practice on August 5th, and there was some speculation that injured reserve was in his future. However, he's been practicing this week and he may see time on the field with fellow Tigers alum Ben Obomanu sidelined with a strained hamstring. Taylor, one of Seattle's two sixth-round draft picks, is a tall receiver who isn't afraid to be physical (he considers Hines Ward to be his primary influence) and will go after balls in traffic. He could be a Darrell Jackson/Bobby Engram hybrid and perfect West Coast Offense fit down the road, but his first challenge will be to show what he can do in this game. Last year, Obomanu started on the practice squad after being released at final cuts and made the active roster when the Seahawks were losing cornerbacks by the bushel late in the season. Taylor will know that such opportunities can arise.

TE Joe Newton: Weaver and Newton are the only undrafted players on this list, and Newton's situation is very interesting. An extremely productive tight end at Oregon State, he's a slowish but very consistent receiver, a willing blocker, and an absolutely humongous target at 6'7" and 257 pounds. Newton's had some good moments in camp, but the Seahawks needed to see what they had in free agent starter Marcus Pollard, Now that Pollard has impressed, it might be Newton's turn to break through the roster barriers and make a move on what has become a very weak position for the Seahawks.
His advantage might be that he looks very "finished" as a route-runner and after-catch gainer – he may be undrafted, but he's not the project that his status implies.

G/T Ray Willis: With Walter Jones rounding back into shape from shoulder soreness, and right tackle Sean Locklear moving left once again to replace Jones through this game, Willis will repeat the role on the right side that he played effectively against the Vikings. The huge lineman showed great potential as a run-blocker, but he did experience a few pass protection breakdowns. These things can be minimized with experience, and the team seems very high on Willis' development. Selected in the fourth round of the 2005 draft – one round after David Greene – "Big Die Slow" is playing for a backup spot and a chance to add real depth to Seattle's offensive line. He's been waiting for a chance like this for a long time.

DT Brandon Mebane: The third-round pick from Cal has been the standout among Seattle's rookies, and quite possibly the star of training camp. As with most defensive tackles (especially those who play the 4-3 nose position), Mebane's tackle stats (four tackles/one assist) don't begin to tell the whole story. The whole story is this: With Marcus Tubbs' "microfractured" knee still a subject of some trepidation, Mebane is the closest thing the Seahawks have to an elite run-stuffer at this moment. He's already exhibited an ability to take on double teams aggressively (one of the few highlights of the Packers game) and his ability to rush the passer in college has morphed into an aptitude for pushing pieces of an offensive line backwards against their will. Mebane has most likely already played his way onto the DT rotation; his efforts against Oakland could make an enormous difference in Seattle's ability to limit Tubbs' reps in game action and still be effective against the run. More than any other Seahawks rookie, Mebane is the key to instant positional success.

DE Baraka Atkins: The rookie from Miami picked up his first NFL sack against the Vikings, and he'll get plenty of reps against the Oakland line that backs up the Oakland line which pass-blocked as badly as any unit in the league in 2006. The raiders have a few new pieces to that starting puzzle and a new zone-blocking scheme, but the odds have this game looking more like an every-man-for-himself proposition. Atkins' impressive athleticism gives the edge in such matchups.

LB Will Herring: Four linebackers are guaranteed roster spots (the Star Triplets and backup Kevin Bentley), and Niko Koutouvides is the backup at middle linebacker. This puts Herring, a safety/linebacker hybrid (and yet another Auburn product!) in an interesting spot. Through the preseason, Herring has been all over the place, displaying acumen beyond his years, especially on special teams. He's third in tackles with nine behind only Marcus Trufant and Josh Wilson, phus he has an intereception and a pass defensed. Herring could be what the Seahawks wanted Isaiah Kacyvenski to be, but the question is – will there be a roster spot open for him to prove it? Seattle kept seven linebackers last season, so the odds are good that Herring will make it and put forth his best effort on special teams. This puts him in line to be what the Seahawks wanted him to be – a good depth soldier and an asset on the coverage teams.

CB Josh Wilson: Starting right cornerback Kelly Jennings suffered a bruised leg against the Vikings, and that leaves a brief opening for Wilson, Seattle's top pick in 2007, to show what he can do in the secondary. Wilson's been most notable on special teams so far – he leads the NFL in kickoff returns (11), return yardage (262 yards) and his 26.5 average puts him second behind Arizona's Steve Breaston among those with 10 or more chances. Now, the ACC standout will get a real shot against Oakland's offense. Wilson will no doubt be a featured weapon on special teams, and his ability to play the nickel corner position this season will speed his development as an NFL player. The learning process continues…


Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and a contributing author to Pro Football Prospectus 2007. Feel free to e-mail him here.


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