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A familiar feeling, times three
|SEAHAWKS VS VIKINGS|
When: Today, 7 p.m., CenturyLink Field
Records: Seahawks 1-0; Vikings 0-1
TV: KING/5, with Curt Menefee and Warren Moon
Radio: 710 ESPN and 97.3 FM, with Steve Raible, Paul Moyer and Jen Mueller
Series: Seahawks lead in the preseason 7-6, but the Vikings won 24-13 in Minneapolis last summer.
What to watch
Seahawks No. 1 offense: The line needs to give QB Tarvaris Jackson more time than it did against the Chargers, when Jackson also was without his starting wide-outs – Mike Williams and Sidney Rice, who sat out to rest minor injuries. The starters generated only 36 net yards in two series, as Jackson was sacked twice, had to scramble to avoid pressure twice and was penalized for grounding once – in nine pass plays.
The Purple Connection: The Seahawks have a new offensive coordinator (Darrell Bevell), a new QB (Jackson) and a new big-play wide receiver (Rice). But this trio will look familiar to the Vikings, since all three were in Minnesota before coming to the Seahawks.
The kids: That’s what coach Pete Carroll calls this year’s rookie class. And from the starting tandem of right tackle James Carpenter and right guard John Moffitt; to No. 3 QB Josh Portis; to wide-outs Doug Baldwin and Ricardo Lockette; to linebackers Malcolm Smith and K.J. Wright; to defensive backs Richard Sherman and Jeron Johnson, they’ve made plays worth watching.
The sideline: It was the fourth quarter of a preseason opener, but you never would have known it by the way Carroll was cavorting and cajoling in San Diego. His intensity, and joy, made it seem more like the final minutes of last season’s stunning upset of the Saints in the playoffs.
On his very first pass of his very first practice with the Seahawks, Tarvaris Jackson not only looked for Sidney Rice, he threw him the ball.
Not surprising when you consider that the pitch-and-catch tandem were almost a sign-one-get-the-other duo of a deal in free agency. The third point in this former Minnesota Vikings triangle is Darrell Bevell, the new offensive coordinator.
Bevell was hired in January when coach Pete Carroll decided to go “in another direction” with the offense after the Seahawks ranked 28th in the league last season. Bevell was instrumental in getting Jackson to sign during the abbreviated free-agency period in this oddest of offseasons, and Jackson then helped recruit Rice. All three were together in Minnesota – Bevell and Jackson for the past five seasons, with Rice joining them in 2007.
The new-look offense is now largely in their hands – along with the oversized mitts of Tom Cable, who also was hired in January as the assistant head coach/offensive line coach to add some wallop to what was a punchless running game last season.
“It’s really important that we run the football – we’ve been committed to it since we got here,” Carroll said. “We didn’t get it accomplished last year, but hopefully we’re getting closer. With that, the throwing game comes off the running game in our system.
“That’s why Tarvaris is such a big complement – he can move well, he can get out of the pocket. So we love that part of him.”
So much so that Carroll, a coach whose entire program is based on competition, named Jackson the starter to replace departed incumbent Matt Hasselbeck before he ever took a snap in training camp.
It’s all about continuity in this condensed preparation period leading up to tonight’s preseason home opener against – wouldn’t you know it – the Vikings at CenturyLink Field; as well as the Sept. 11 regular-season opener against the 49ers in San Francisco.
With less time to prepare, from Bevell’s lips, to Jackson’s ears and arm, to Rice’s hands is a shortcut to production – not to mention consistency – that simply made too much sense.
“This entire program has always been about competition. That’s the central theme in this program,” Carroll said. “In this situation, I think to make it the most competitive for our team, Tarvaris needs to be our starter right now.
“Tarvaris brings so much continuity to us; I think it’s the best thing for our club. And I’m excited to tell you that. I think this guy is a heckuva prospect that’s already been embraced by our players and our coaches. What he brings us is something special. He’s a very talented kid.”
All of which brings us back to that first Jackson-to-Rice completion in their first practice with their new team.
“I’m kind of familiar with him,” Jackson said through a smile when asked about that play.
Familiar? “Tarvaris is one on my closest friends ever since I came into the league,” Rice said. “I used to hang out at his place all the time; vice versa he’d come over to my place. I feel comfortable around him.”
Now, these two are hanging out together in the Seahawks’ huddle. And locker room. And offensive meeting room.
“Any time you get guys you’re familiar with and you know their skills and abilities already, that helps you and I think it helps the player as well,” Bevell said. “This is a different time, and we’re all going through it for the first time. So any time you can have guys that are familiar with your system, particularly that quarterback position, it’s huge.”
Jackson made 12 of his 20 career starts and was 8-4 in 2007, before becoming Brett Favre’s backup the past two seasons. He completed 58 percent of his passes (171 of 294) for 1,911 yards with nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions in ’07. But, according to Rice, Jackson never was allowed to showcase the full array of his talents with the Vikings.
“I felt like in Minnesota he was never let loose, never allowed to play comfortably like I know he can play,” Rice said. “I feel like he’ll get that opportunity out here to prove all those guys who think he’s not an NFL quarterback wrong.”
Added Bevell, “T-Jack is an athletic guy. The game is important to him. He’s willing to study. He’s willing to do the little things. He’s got a huge arm. If anything does happen in the pocket, he’s got the ability to get a first down with his legs. There’s a lot of positives about him.”
Rice, meanwhile, posted 83 of his 146 career receptions in 2009, when he was voted to the Pro Bowl after also compiling 1,312 yards and eight TD catches. He missed the first 10 games last season after having preseason hip surgery, but returned to catch 17 passes for a 16.5-yard average in the final six games.
At 6 feet 4, 202 pounds, Rice will start at flanker opposite Mike Williams, the 6-5 split end who led the Seahawks in receptions last season.
Asked what he expects Rice to add to the passing game, Carroll offered, “Everything. I think Sidney is an incredible player. We looked at him, we looked at everything that he’s done – every catch that he’s made since he’s been in the league – to evaluate him.
“He has an extraordinary sense for finding the football with people all over him. He’s tough. He’s physical. He’s creative. He’s got the special confidence that great catchers have.”
Added Bevell, “We like the big-play ability that Sidney has. His catch radius is unbelievable. He goes up for balls. He can catch them high. He can catch them low. He can dive out to the sideline to make the catch.”
Rice also has a comfort zone, even though he’s with a new team, in a new division, in a new city – because he already knows the offense, the guy who’s coordinating the offense and the one who’s running it.
“It’s always good to be around familiar people that you know well,” Rice said. “I love the offense. I know it – every position, mostly.”
Rice then cracked a smile before adding, “I’m not going to say every position. (Bevell) might put me on the spot in a meeting. But I know ‘X’ (split end), ‘Z’ (flanker), things like that.
“Like I said before, it’s always good being around things you know and people you know.”
And Jackson knows exactly what he’s talking about, for the just-as-obvious reasons.
“When Bevell came here, I was like, ‘That’ll be a good spot to end up at with the offense,’ ” Jackson said. “He’s very good to work with. He’s very detailed with his work. He points out key things.
“That’s important, because this is a different experience for both of us.”
Not, however, as different as it could be.