August 30th, 2007
Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington
First, Chris Spencer has a small injury. Then Pat Ross is injured. That is followed by Chris Gray coming in at center and immediately getting called for holding. Then tackle Steve Vallos comes in and botches a snap. Then, Oakland return man Johnnie Lee Higgins inexplicably decides to fair-catch a punt when he has 15 yards of turf between him and the nearest defender. Yup, definitely the 4th pre-season game.
Handouts to the Standouts: FB Leonard Weaver ran for 74 yards on 16 carries, and more importantly was extremely effective as a run-blocker WR Nate Burleson caught 3 passes for 52 yards, caused the Raiders to commit a couple costly penalties, and overall looked excellent RG Mansfield Wrotto finally got some extended playing time and looked very good, particularly as a pass-blocker S CJ Wallace appears to have solidified himself a spot as a pre-season star, and may have made the team CB Pete Hunter played great football and will be on a team this season, if not Seattle than somewhere else DE Daryll Tapp continues to impress, this time playing a key roll in stopping Raiders RB Dominic Rhodes for a safety LB Cameron Jensen came from nowhere but played inspired ball WR Joe Fernandez looked very good as a return man and impressed as a receiver Overall Seneca Wallace received good protection and was able to run away from pressure any time the line couldn't hold up
Things that made me go "blech!": After surviving the three previous games with roughly as many serious injuries as occurred in the summer scrimmage, this week was dangerous. Mostly devastating was the torn ACL suffered by DT Marcus Tubbs QB Seneca Wallace looked better than his stat-sheet indicated, but he DID throw two interceptions, and neither of them was anybody's fault except his own WR Jordan Kent showed great athleticism but poor route-running and awful hands, albeit with a small sample size Very little pressure from the front-four despite lining up against an offensive line known for playing poorly CB Josh Wilson looked awful in coverage (again), and left with a hip injury that is reported to be minor TE Leonard Stephens was suppose to be impressing in practices, but his biggest impact came from penalties to the offense, making him a likely cut
Offense: Last week I noted that Seneca Wallace was only given two plays designed to get him out of the pocket, and both of those were good plays. Well, Holmgren must have gotten the memo because Seneca had plenty of plays that were designed to get him out of the pocket unfortunately, he didn't do much with them this week. Seneca looked as good on bootlegs as one would expect, but it seemed the Raiders were ready every time Seneca rolled out of the pocket. Despite the brutal statline (12-for-26, 1 TD, 2 INT), Seneca was actually better than that but suffered from a plethora of penalties and some uncalled pass-interference penalties on deep passes. It does appear - with Seneca getting some extensive looks in the past few games - that he has some major limitations that will keep him from ever being a starting NFL QB. His accuracy is inconsistent, he has the arm to throw the deep ball but struggles with accuracy, his ability to throw inside the pocket is suspect, and occasionally Seneca makes dumb decisions with the football.
Before training camp began, it was widely assumed that DJ Hackett had the starters job locked up, and the only way that Nate Burleson could win the job involved prying the #2 receiver job from Hackett's lifeless fingers. It would appear Burleson has done just that, with another impressive game, capped off with a touchdown catch. In a way, Hackett allowed this to happen, looking spotty in practice and invisible in games, but it was caused as much by Burleson's outstanding play as Hackett's disappearing act. Hackett is still the great WCO deep threat with incredible hands, but Burleson's ability to get open consistently - as well as his great yards-after-catch ability - has given him the edge. This position battle was expected to be one-sided, and it was for Burleson.
Another one-sided training camp battle was Leonard Weaver's. Unlike Burleson, who won his battle based on merit, Weaver was anointed the backup to FB Mack Strong before camp began - and has made Holmgren question that decision repeatedly. After a couple bad performances earlier in the season, Weaver really stepped it up against the Raiders backups, running effectively (especially since Holmgren stopped calling a bunch of outside runs for his 250lb fullback) on all sorts of inside runs and really flashing dominance as a run-blocker. While his pass-blocking is still suspect, Weaver has clearly earned a spot on the team and has shown he deserves significant snaps.
Defense: It's hard to leave this game feeling positive. DT Marcus Tubbs, who is as key a player to the defense as anybody not named Tatupu, left the game with what has noe been diagnosed an a torn right ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). This could be a crippling blow for the team, as Tubbs is the only Seattle defensive tackle who is consistent in his ability to stop the run, as well as being an underrated pass-rusher. The statistics are as simple as they are ominous: in the games in which Marcus Tubbs played last year, Seattle allowed 82 yards rushing per game. With Tubbs injured, Seattle allowed a whopping 147 yards per game. Unless rookie DT Brandon Mebane can step up and take over Tubbs' role, this run defense will rank in the bottom third of the league. One interesting observation on Mebane in Thursday night's game was his burst was so good, he was often blowing a blocker past the ball-carrier. While that kind of dominance is impressive, it also left the defense vulnerable to the cutback. Maybe Mebane needs to take it a little easier.
In mini-camp and early into training camp, CB Josh Wilson was having a hard time not getting buried but the avalanche of praise heaped on him. He proved to be worth the 2nd round pick Seattle invested in him after showing explosiveness as a kickoff returner. But even before he was taken out of the game with a hip injury, his play during the entire pre-season at cornerback was begging the question: Is he really our nickel cornerback? He has looked very poor in coverage from the cornerback position, and even a touch slower than the wideouts he has lined up against. This injury could actually end up being a blessing in disguise - it is reportedly minor, and it might give somebody else the chance to impress the coaches Somebody like Pete Hunter. While Hunter lacks the prototype speed and quickness needed to cover many slow receivers - at 6'2 his size is perhaps his best attribute - he has shown great coverage and tackling, and has yet to be burned in coverage. It's easy to forget that before he was injured with Dallas, he was a starting cornerback who had a bright future. It might be in Seattle's best interest to let Hunter take over the nickel roles until Wilson is fully recovered and learns some of the finer points of coverage.
All is not bad for the defense, however. DE Darryl Tapp, despite DE Bryce Fisher playing fairly well, appears to have locked up the starting spot. Tapp was less effective as a pass-rusher against Oakland (indeed, nobody was effective as a pass-rusher) than he had been in earlier games, but he showed great leverage against the running game and deserves most of the credit for forcing a safety tonight. Tapp, a 2nd round pick out of Virginia Tech in 2006, has shown in both the regular season last year and the pre-season this year that he is a consistent pass-rusher, but his run defense was the big question despite being considered "small" at 6'1 257, Tapp showed the ability to fight off blocks and get penetration on running plays as well as pass plays. He looks poised to have a big season as the starting RDE.
Special Teams: It was a very confusing game. Aside from the 90-yard punt return touchdown the coverage unit yielded to Oakland, special teams looked very good. But it looked VERY bad on that punt return, with return man Johnnie Lee Higgins not even having to wiggle out of a tackle. Aside from that, it was the same-old story we saw last week. Burleson and Wilson look like stars as return men. Josh Brown and Ryan Plackemeier continue their great work. The only other notable player was WR Joe Fernandez, who showed some good returning skills. He may have locked himself up a spot on the practice squad, but he's a longshot to make the final 53-man roster.
Conclusion: Any time you lose three players to injury (C Chris Spencer, CB Josh Wilson, DT Marcus Tubbs) who were expected to play significant time, it hurts. That only one injury (Tubbs') looks to be serious is promising, but the prospect of going a significant stretch of time without Tubbs has to be frightening to Seahawk fans. That this game caused three injuries to contributing players for Seattle, despite having many starters site, would lend credence to the growing number of complaints that the pre-season is too long. Guys like Spencer and LG Rob Sims had nothing to prove in this game, but started because the depth behind them is abysmal. Certainly, losing Tubbs was an unfortunate event that makes the victory pale in comparison.
Kyle Rota writes for Seahawks.NET, and he's known as "Rotak" on our message boards. Feel free to e-mail Kyle here.