The NFL regular season is almost upon us, but first the Seahawks will travel to Oakland for their final preseason contest before next week's opener in Green Bay.
While last week's game provided starters an opportunity to play into the second half, their longest tune-up of the preseason, Thursday night's game will feature more playing time for young players battling for roster spots.
"This will be a game of a lot of opportunity for guys to play," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, "…This is a really exciting game. I can't wait to get out there and see these guys go and see what they show us and all that. The decisions are really difficult and I anticipate that. We told you, this has been one of the deepest groups we've had. There's a lot of good football players here and so we'll just try to figure it out and do the best we can and do that."
So even if there's a bit less star power on display in preseason game No. 4, don't mistake it for being an unimportant game—in many cases, jobs are on the line Thursday.
"It's the final audition this preseason," said defensive end David Bass. "So we'll go out there and try to put our best foot forward and try to make sure we join the coaches' trust, the players' trust and just do what we do best."
With that in mind, here are five things to watch when the Seahawks play the Raiders:
1. The team's full complement of running backs?
Yes, a question mark is necessary for this first item, because while it appears all of Seattle's running backs are healthy for the first time in several weeks, that doesn't mean all are certain to play.
Carroll said Wednesday that C.J. Prosise (groin) and Thomas Rawls (ankle), who both returned to practice this week, are healthy enough to play, but if there's any doubt at all about their game readiness, it's likely that the Seahawks would err on the side of caution with the regular season fast approaching.
If those two do play, however, it will be interesting to see how the offense looks with so many talented backs available. Carroll has called this backfield—which also includes the likes of Eddie Lacy, Alex Collins, Chris Carson, Mike Davis and J.D. McKissic—the best the Seahawks have had in his time here.
Carroll has had success coaching teams with a clear-cut No. 1 back, most notably when Marshawn Lynch was one of the NFL's best backs during his time in Seattle, but he also really likes the idea of using multiple backs who can bring different things to the table.
"I do like having different dimension guys," Carroll said. "Go back to the 'SC days, that was really as obvious as you can make it when you have really different style guys. You can play in different modes at times, and sometimes one mode would be more effective than the others, so the versatility, I'm very comfortable with that. I think we'll be able to execute that very well. We have a really diverse group. You start with those two guys (Rawls and Lacy), but then C.J. brings some stuff and Chris has really been exciting to see too, and then McKissic lit us up the last couple days with all the versatility he brought, so I'm fine with (using multiple backs). I am really comfortable and I have no problem with it. Also, I'm comfortable with a guy taking over. If a guy takes over and it's obvious, I've got no problem with that either. So I guess that's pretty wide open."
In other words, Pete Carroll isn't too worried about your fantasy team.
2. The battle for roster spots at receiver.
The Seahawks are deep at a number of positions this year, and few position groups, if any, are as competitive from top to bottom as receiver.
In the past the Seahawks have usually kept five or six receivers on the 53-man roster, and if that's the case again this year, Seattle will have to part ways with some quality players.
"I can't call it right now," Carroll said. "We are just going to go into this week again—this week of practice and the game—and see what happens. These guys are really battling and there are a lot of positives. It's not all the stuff that has happened in the games—some of the guys have had better ops than other guys, but yeah, it is a really good position for us and it's going to be some tough stuff to figure out."
Earlier in the week, quarterback Russell Wilson said this is "the most talented (receiver) group we've ever had here, in terms of just overall group," and it's hard to argue with that assessment considering how many players have a very real chance to contribute. Doug Baldwin is unquestionably the No. 1 receiver, but a case could be made for Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson or Jermaine Kearse to hold down the No. 2 spot. Behind those four, players like Kasen Williams, Tanner McEvoy, Amara Darboh and Kenny Lawler all have legitimate hopes not just of making the team, but of making real contributions to the offense.
3. The defensive line depth.
Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark are not expected to play Thursday night, which will only give the Seahawks more opportunity to assess a pretty deep group of linemen, and of pass-rushers in particular. In addition to their starting ends and Clark, who is coming off a 10-sack season, the Seahawks also have Cassius Marsh, Marcus Smith and David Bass pushing for playing time.
Asked about Smith earlier this week, Carroll said, "He's in the mix to be the top four or five rushers in our group. We have a good group—Cassius has done really well to add in as well as Frank. We are getting some flexibility from these guys and I hope we can keep guys fresh in order to the tempo really up if it all comes down to that."
And on Bass, Carroll said, "He's taking everything. He has background with (defensive line coach) Clint (Hurtt) and they communicate really well. Clint makes great sense to him because he's learned a lot of football already. He's been all over the place and he's really excelled at everything he's done. We've seen him moving inside in the running game, moving inside in the passing game and playing end for us. He's been a real surprise. He's been so competitive. He's one of the most productive guys for us."
4. The backup quarterback battle.
Through the first two preseason games, Trevone Boykin appeared to be the pretty clear leader in the competition for the No. 2 quarterback job. And while Boykin very well may still win that job, he did struggle a bit in preseason game No. 3, while Austin Davis showed with a strong performance last week that he's still in the running there.
"They are going to be battling it out," Carroll said. "I think it has been a very competitive position for us. Trevone did a really good job the first two weeks, but he struggled a little bit last week. I think if we would have kept playing him he would have been fine and come out of it; I think it was just the sequencing. But then again, Austin played really good last week. He was perfect, it's great. It's a great battle for us, and these guys have been going out every day out here, so we will add all of that together and figure it out. But we are going through this game, we don't know what we are doing yet."
5. Who stands out on special teams?
For starters, the Seahawks will finally get to see D.J. Alexander in action on special teams. Alexander, who came to Seattle in a trade with Kansas City, missed the first three preseason game with a knee injury, but is expected to play. And while he will also give the Seahawks depth at linebacker, the Seahawks are especially excited to see what Alexander can do on special teams, where he was named a Pro-Bowler last season.
But Alexander is just one of many players looking to show what he can do on special teams in this final audition. At receiver or running back or defensive back or any other competitive spot on the roster, special teams play is often time the best way for a player to separate himself from the pack.
"It's crucial, in particular for some guys more than others," Carroll said. "Yeah, this is really big. We've had a really good look at our guys, we feel like we have a lot of information on guys. But now some guys have to close the deal."