The Vikings will play their most significant game of the preseason tonight when they square off with the Seattle Seahawks and the starters are expected to play the entire first half and most likely into the third quarter. What Seahawks team they see is still up to debate because there are many more questions than answers with Seattle, and injuries are already taking a significant toll on the team.
The Seahawks ruled the roost in the NFC West for years, thanks in no small part to having a running game led by Shaun Alexander and an O-line that featured almost-certain Hall of Famers Steve Hutchinson and Walter Jones. The team the Vikings see tonight is a far cry from that team. It is an organization that has been spiraling downward the last couple of years.
Injuries have hit the Seahawks as hard as any team in the league over the last couple of seasons and this year would seem to be no different. The team has already found itself thin at a couple of key positions due to injury and the problems seem to be mounting for new head coach Pete Carroll.
The leader of the Seattle offense is Matt Hasselbeck, who, despite being a backup to Brett Favre for three years in Green Bay, is viewed as nearing the end of the line in his 12th season. He has battled injuries of his own over the last several years, including an injury against the Vikings that he claimed was a cheap shot. He is expected to play the first half, but his hold on the starting job took a hit when the Seahawks traded for Chargers backup Charlie Whitehurst and signed for Buffalo QB of the future J.P. Losman in free agency. Whitehurst is likely going to be given the chance to win the starting job if Hasselbeck struggles or gets injured, so this is a position in flux.
The running game is no different. The Seahawks have attempted to patch together a committee approach since it doesn't have a true go-to star like Adrian Peterson is for the Vikings. As muddled as the running game has been, in the last week-and-a-half, Seattle signed and subsequently released the "other Adrian Peterson" and traded for (and then released) former Carroll protégé LenDale White. As it stands, the Seahawks expect to divide up carries between former Cowboy Julius Jones, youngster Justin Forsett, who was more impressive than Jones when given the starting nod last year, and free-agent signee Leon Washington. Washington is expected to start against the Vikings, but anticipate seeing all three backs, as well as undersized Quinton Ganther. Ganther is a fire plug who also serves as a backup fullback behind Owen Schmitt, so he will likely be on the field more than a fourth RB should be.
The receiving core is one of the deeper positions on the team, but, like running back, lacks a go-to dominating receiver, which may explain why Seattle was granted permission by the Chargers to talk to holdout Vincent Jackson about a contract. That talk has died down in recent days, but the Seahawks still have talent. The Seahawks beat out the Vikings in the pursuit of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who signed for less money than the Vikings were offering, and last week signed Brandon Jones, who was also on the Vikings' free-agent radar. Deion Branch has never lived up to the hype that led to him being acquired in a trade from the Patriots, but he does possess solid deep speed. Also in the mix are rookie Golden Tate of Notre Dame, who many believe will develop into the ‘Hawks top receiving threat, former Lions first-round pick (and another USC-Carroll connection) Mike Williams and Ben Obamanu, who has been a steady player who has been pushed into the starting lineup each of the last two years. Isaiah Stanback was expected to fight for a roster spot, but he was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon in training camp.
The team is solid at tight end with John Carlson, whose seven receiving touchdowns were more than double that of any other player on the team in 2009, and blocking TE Chris Baker. A pair of youngsters – second-year man Cameron Morrah and rookie Anthony McCoy – are battling for the No. 3 TE spot.
With the retirement of future Hall of Famer Walter Jones, the Seahawks wasted no time in drafting his replacement, taking Russell Okung of Oklahoma State with the sixth pick in the draft. However, his progress has been retarded by a high ankle sprain sustained against Green Bay that will have him on the shelf for two to four weeks. What makes this issue even more of a front-burner question is that Ray Willis, who is listed as the No. 2 tackle at both the LT and RT, underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage damage in his knee and isn't expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. As a result, fourth-year man Mansfield Wrotto, who is third on the depth chart at left tackle is expected to start. The problems don't end there. Guard Ben Hamilton has been working with the second team as he comes back from injury, but the Seahawks depth chart lists Wrotto as the No. 2 option and recently-signed Chester Pitts as No. 3. The problem? Wrotto is slated to start at tackle until Okung returns and Pitts, who was considered by the Vikings but passed on because of a serious knee injury last year that required surgery, remains sidelined and isn't expected to play. The right side of the line is intact with center Chris Spencer, guard Max Unger and tackle Sean Locklear, but depth is being tested already on the O-line and if things don't improve quickly it could be the kind of problem that kills the Seahawks offense again in 2010.
The defensive front hasn't been immune from injury either. When 49ers holdout Kentwan Balmer forced a trade, the Seahawks stepped up, but he has been sideline with ankle and knee injuries that have required a couple of MRIs and he is out. Second-year pro Nick Reed, who was expected to be a bigger part of the line rotation, had arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this month and is out until the start of the regular season. There is talent, with Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane starting at tackle and Chris Clemons entrenched at left defensive end. The biggest D-line training camp battle has been at right DE, where third-year men Lawrence Jackson and Red Bryant are competing for a starting spot. Although this isn't a dismal unit on the Seahawks roster, it can't suffer too many more injuries before it takes too heavy a toll.
The strength of the Seattle defense is at linebacker, where Leroy Hill, Lofa Tatupu and Aaron Curry are a formidable trio. But here, too, there have been injury concerns. Hill has been sidelined with a knee injury, opening up a competition between Will Herring and recently-re-signed Tyjuan Hagler. With six-year veteran Matt McCoy as the only other healthy OLB, depth could be a concern here as well. David Hawthorne gained some valuable experience in the middle when he replaced Tatupu after five games last year and undrafted rookie Joe Pawelek is hoping to make the squad as a special teams player.
The Seahawks have one of the better secondaries in the NFC with experienced veterans and young talent blending together. Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings form a solid cornerback tandem, but, as if on cue, Jennings has been sidelined with a hyper-extended elbow. Fourth-year pro Josh Wilson, who started 12 games last year due to injuries in the secondary, is expected to take Jennings spot if he can't go. Depth is extremely thin. The team has gone through training camp third-year man Roy Lewis, a part-time special teamer and rookies Walter Thurmond, Marcus Brown and Kennard Cox providing depth. This is another unit that can't withstand any more injuries, making them yet another question mark.
How bad is the Seattle injury situation? The team had to sign kicker Clint Stitser because regular kicker Olindo Mare has been shelved with a leg injury. When even your kicker is getting hurt, it doesn't bode well.
Just a couple of years ago, the Seahawks were the unquestioned king of the hill in the NFC West. They have fallen on hard times since and, from the looks of things, 2010 could be just as long a season for the Seahawks and their fans as 2009 was. Until they can get healthy, it's hard to imagine them winning more than five or six games this year, which should make them a good sacrificial lamb for the Vikings, who have much higher aspirations for 2010.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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