Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks-Chargers, Pt 1

In Part One of this two-part preseason preview, Doug Farrar of NorthwestFootball.net answers five questions from Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport about the upcoming Seattle-San Diego game. How will the Seahawks come back from injury, which rookies could stand out, and how will the new schemes play early on?

ML: The Seahawks were riddled by injuries last season, effectively derailing any chance they had of making the postseason. Will that cause Jim Mora to be more conservative in terms of playing his starters during the preseason?

DF: I don't think so – there are veterans like Walter Jones and Patrick Kerney who won't see a lot of action during the preseason, but that's standard operating procedure for superstars on the wrong side of the age curve who are coming off serious injuries. In his first season as Seattle's head coach, Mora will have to balance the need to keep his most productive players healthy with the fact that those same players are learning new variations on old schemes no offense and defense. More Tampa-2 defensive sets, a switch to zone blocking, a more run-based West Coast Offense – Mora's players must get acclimated to this through the preseason, because a slow start to the 2009 season could be real trouble to a franchise that endured so much disappointment last year.

ML: What is the most important thing Seattle hopes to accomplish on Saturday?

DF: Getting out without any more injuries would be a good start! From there, as I mentioned, it's about getting the players repped up on the new schemes and systems. They'll want to see their draft picks and free agents, of course. First-round linebacker Aaron Curry will want to begin to put together a game that fits his reputation as perhaps the best player in this draft class. Second-round pick Max Unger could be starting just about anywhere on the offensive line with various minor injuries deciding placement of the front five.

Third-round receiver Deon Butler is looking to break through and get some starting consideration. Fifth-round quarterback Mike Teel from Rutgers is just trying to make it as the third man on the chart. Later-round guys like safety Courtney Greene, end Nick Reed and tight end Cameron Morrah will attempt to fight their way off seemingly sure practice squad designations. That's the real drama of the preseason to me – the starter battles and fights for positioning. The elite players go at half-speed sometimes, and you don't see a lot from them that's indicative of anything.

ML: Preseason or not, we know teams are going to pass the ball against the Chargers. Which of Seattle's young pass-catchers are ready to post big numbers after intermission?

DF: Last week, new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said that the battle for the last two receiver spots is as competitive as he's seen in 15 years of coaching. When the established starters – T.J. Houshmanzadeh, Deion Branch, and Nate Burleson -- give way to the kids, that's when it's going to get interesting. The aforementioned Butler has impressed through camp with his ability to run routes and get open. Ben Obomanu, Jordan Kent and Logan Payne were part of the receiver corps going through various injuries, while Courtney Taylor stuck and stayed, and caught a lot of unfair flak for doing what he could in a completely decimated offense. Taylor wasn't a developed player, and he suffered some key drops, but he was never meant to be a starter so soon in his career. Butler and Obomanu are guys who can get underneath and steal yards, which will help them in this offense.

ML: Which first- or second-year player could be an X-factor on defense for Seattle?

DF: Oregon end Nick Reed is a smallish player (6-2, 245) who is notable for his drive and desire to make it in the NFL. He's one of those try-hard guys who might not make the final roster, but could make the final squad out of sheer determination. Safeties Jamar Adams and Courtney Greene will look to add their names to a pass defense that really disappointed last year. Last year's drafted linemen, Lawrence Jackson and Red Bryant, need to come through more than they did in their rookie seasons. Jackson showed little burst off the edge, showing more pass pressure inside at tackle, and Bryant has shown a physical dominance in this year's camp after missing more of last year due to injury. He's that bigger guy any cover-heavy defense needs to man the point up front and allow the linebackers to use their versatility.

ML: Which Seahawks players look primed to make some big plays on special teams?

DF: First, you have the battle between kickers Brandon Coutu and Olindo Mare. Mare had a great season last year, but team president Tim Ruskell drafted Coutu and he prefers to have "his guys" out there, whether they're better than who's already got a roster spot or not. On returns, though the Seahawks have their roles pretty established, Butler is expected to use his 4.3 speed on punts and kickoffs. Butler might be the guy I'm most excited to see in this game.


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