All eyes on the rookies

Posted Sep 1, 2011

The Seahawks' preseason finale against the Raiders on Friday night gives the coaches one last chance to evaluate players before Saturday's roster cut to 53 – including those remaining from the rookie free agent class.

Maybe it was the fact that he had not been able to sign any players for 136 days during the lockout. Maybe it is the fact that some of the players in this year’s rookie free agent class really can play. Perhaps it was a combination of the two.

Whatever the reason, general manager John Schneider has been pumped about that 18-player class since the Seahawk signed it on July 26.

“We were able to sign some rookie free agents who we’re real excited about,” Schneider said at the time. “We’re really excited about that group.”

The “we” includes coach Pete Carroll, who considers the rookie free agents an extension of the team’s nine-player draft class.

Seven remain, and they’re making things interesting – and even difficult – when it comes to preparing for Friday night’s preseason finale against the Oakland Raiders at CenturyLink Field and roster cut to 53 players on Saturday.

And that’s a good thing, for the team and those players – wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Ricardo Lockette, quarterback Josh Portis, linebacker Mike Morgan, safety Jeron Johnson and even fullback Dorson Boyce, who was released and then re-signed; and defensive lineman Pierre Allen, who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury.

If they don’t figure into the fight for spots on the 53-man roster, they could be in the mix for one of the eight berths on the practice squad that can be compiled on Sunday.

“It has been a really good group of guys,” Carroll said after Thursday’s practice. “We’ve been excited about the quarterback, for sure, in Josh; and Baldwin’s had a great camp; Ricardo Lockette’s done stuff consistently for us; Mike Morgan has played well for us on the defensive side.

“There have been a number of guys. It’s really added to the draft class and made it a very competitive group. And it’s been exciting from the beginning.”

Now that the team is reaching the end of its preseason, no one has to explain to these undrafted players exactly what’s on the line.

“You’ve got to go into it with the same mentality you go into every game,” Johnson said. “You’re fortunate enough to be playing another game and you’ve got to capitalize on your opportunities.”

Which Johnson definitely has to this point. The safety from Boise State broke up a fourth-down pass in the end zone in the closing seconds to ice the win over the Chargers in the opener, is tied for third on the team with eight tackles and also tied for second in passes defensed (two) and special teams tackles (two).

“I’ve made a few plays here and there,” he said. “But I’ve made a few mistakes, as well. Fortunately, the plays I’ve made have outweighed the bad. So I’ve just got to go into this game with the same mentality.”

Some of that includes playing with blinders, because Johnson and the other remaining six have seen their rookie free agent classmates go the way of the waiver wire.

“There’s a bond between all the rookies,” Johnson said. “The drafted guys don’t treat you any different because you were undrafted.

“And, definitely, the front office did a good job of getting us all here.”

He’ll get no argument on that from Schneider or Carroll, as well as his final sentiment.

“Unfortunately, we can’t all make the team,” Johnson said.

That’s a huge storyline in Friday night’s game. Who plays? How much? How well?

“There are some really important play-time issues where we see some guys do some things,” Carroll said. “Everybody will play in this game, which is good for us. We need to see everybody. These guys have worked really hard in this camp and they deserve to get out there and show where they fit.”

Has there been enough time to complete the evaluation process?

“Well, we have all the time that we’re going to get,” Carroll told the reporters gathered around him after practice. “I’m trying to make really good choices. I told you awhile ago that we’re challenged more now with the lesser time to figure it out, but it is what it is and hopefully we’ll make good choices.”

With the way the remaining members of the rookie free agent class have performed, they already have.