Countdown to kickoff: Seahawks at Broncos

Posted Aug 7, 2014

The Seahawks open their 2014 preseason Thursday night by playing the same opponent they closed the 2013 season against as they meet the Broncos in a Super Bowl rematch, only this time the game is in Denver.

DENVER – Mile-high greetings from Sports Authority Field, where the Super Bowl champion Seahawks will open their 2014 preseason on Thursday night against the Denver Broncos, the same team they beat so convincingly in February to win the franchise’s first championship.

But, as coach Pete Carroll and his players have been reminding anyone who will listen this week, that 35-point romp over the Broncos at MetLife Stadium was then. Tonight’s preseason opener is now, and the Seahawks’ ability to live in the now is a huge reason why they’re coming off the most successful season in franchise history.

For the Broncos, well, the less-than-super memories of the 43-8 score in Super Bowl XLVIII are harder to put in the rearview mirror.

“Oh, yeah, it matters,” defensive tackle Terrance Knighton told the Denver Post. “It matters to the city, to the team. That was the last team we played, and we know what happened. It’s a team where you can see where you are at.

“I expect it to be a little more aggressive because of the Super Bowl and the fact that they have been talking a lot during the offseason.”

Even veteran QB Peyton Manning admitted, “Our entire team was motivated by the Super Bowl. That started back April.”

It’s now August, and tonight’s game will begin with the players everyone wants to see – including Manning, Von Miller and Demaryius Thomas for the Broncos; Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman for the Seahawks. But for Seattle, this preseason opener is more about who everyone needs to watch – the “young guys,” as Carroll calls them.

The starters will play a series or three and then turn things over to those competing for roles or roster spots. Several of the role players from a year ago have stepped into starting spots vacated by those who left in free agency or were released and the “young guys” are looking to claim the roster spots that last season were filled by those who have stepped up.

“It is that time of year of opportunity, it’s what’s going on right now,” Carroll said after the team’s walkthrough practice on Wednesday. “These guys have dreamed their whole life of being in the NFL and having a chance to play. Here it is. So we’ll kind of dedicate this night (Wednesday) and the game to these young guys playing in their first NFL game.”

First-Timers To Keep An Eye On:

Justin Britt (No. 68)

Selected in the second round of May’s NFL Draft to compete with Michael Bowie for the starting right tackle spot that opened when Breno Giacomini signed with the Jets in free agency, the rookie from Missouri has just been getting better and better. His rise-and-grind progression started with the rookie minicamp in May, continued through the OTA workouts and the June minicamp and has been obvious in training camp.

With the on-the-mend Bowie now in Cleveland after being claimed by the Browns, Britt’s competition will come from recently signed veterans Eric Winston, who has started 119 consecutive regular-season games; and Wade Smith, a Pro Bowl selection as a guard in 2012 with the Houston Texans.

But Britt’s primary competition is primarily Justin Britt. If he continues to improve with each outing, especially now that he’ll be blocking opponents in games rather than teammates in practice, he could become what the Seahawks really need at right tackle: A long-term answer.

Tharold Simon (No. 27)

A fifth-round draft choice in 2013, the 6-foot-2 cornerback spent his rookie season on injured reserve. But he’s back, and showing the attributes that prompted the Seahawks to draft him when they already had Sherman. And Byron Maxwell. And Brandon Browner. And Walter Thurmond. And Jeremy Lane.

Browner (Patriots) and Thurmond (Giants) left in free agency, but Simon fits the mold of what Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn want in their corners because he plays long, fast, physical and aggressive. Simon had an interception and lunging deflection in practice on Tuesday. If he keeps it up, he will lock down a roster spot and could challenge for a role in the sub-packages.

Brock Coyle (No. 45)

These are the kinds of stories that preseason games are all about. Coyle, a rookie free agent from Montana, has stepped in at middle linebacker because two-time leading tackler Bobby Wagner is out with a sore hamstring. Coyle isn’t about to replace Wagner, but his performances in practice have exceeded the coaches’ expectations – and linebackers coach Ken Norton, Jr. already liked what the 6-1, 243-pound Coyle brings.

Against the Broncos, and especially those pre-snap gyrations that are so much a part of Manning’s game and have made “Omaha” famous, Coyle’s ability to react accordingly and relay what he’s seeing to the rest of the defense with his pre-snap calls will be a baptismal by blowtorch.

Those are just three of the Seahawks’ “young guys” to keep an eye on Thursday night, with kickoff and televised coverage on Q13 FOX set for 6 p.m. PT.

The question now: Who else can come up with a performance in the preseason opener that will prompt the coaches to want to take an even longer look at them in next Friday’s preseason home-opener against the San Diego Chargers at CenturyLink Field.