The Seahawks host the Kansas City Chiefs at CenturyLink Field Friday night, and as is usually the case in preseason game No. 3, starters are expected to play longer into this game, making it an important tune-up for the regular season.
With that in mind, here are five things to watch when the Seahawks host the Chiefs:
1. How do the starters look?
Yes, the Seahawks will still play a fourth preseason game next week, and that game will be important in its own right—roster spots can be won or lost, or those last lingering position battles can be settled—but most of Seattle's starters will likely see very limited playing time in that game, meaning this is their last significant game action before the Sept. 10 opener at Green Bay.
"This game will give us the opportunity to play our guys more than we have in preseason to this point," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "The starters will be out there longer. We will continue to mix our guys throughout. There are a lot of combinations we would like to see. The first half of the game we will be playing the game. Hopefully our guys will come out in the second half, depending on how it goes in the first half and they may get some plays in the second half."
Coming back to play into the second half is an important part of the preseason process, Carroll said, because "it's a normal procedure. The process of getting them ready to extend your play time. That's just typically how we've done it."
On defense and special teams, that extended game action is particularly important when it comes to tackling, something the Seahawks don't do in practice.
"It's extraordinarily important for us," Carroll said. "This is one of the stages of passage we need to conquer here getting ready for the regular season, and we make a huge deal about it and that's why our guys play and we want to leave them out there some. Maybe we play more than other teams do in the preseason, I don't know. We need to make sure that they've made that connection to the physical side of the game that you can't do any other way but going for it. So it's a big deal, our players know it, we value it and respect this opportunity highly, and it's the step that we have to go to close the circle and get ready to tackle."
2. Is Rees Odhiambo ready to take over at left tackle?
George Fant's knee injury opened the door for somebody to win the starting job at left tackle, and as of now at least, second-year lineman Rees Odhiambo looks like the leading candidate for that spot. He is expected to start, and if he can play well against a good Chiefs defensive front, that would go a long ways towards him earning the job.
"It is a good opportunity for him," Carroll said. "There is no doubt. He had one last week too. All of a sudden he gets thrown in there and he's got to go with a different mentality—he realizes George had gotten hurt and all that. But he had an excellent week. I think he settled down into understanding about the opportunity. I think he is very level-headed about it and just judging from the week, I think he is ready to have a really solid football game. He is going to get checked out. They've got really good guys over there, so it will be a good opportunity for him with some really legit matchups whoever they throw at him."
Odhiambo still has to earn that starting job, however. The Seahawks just acquired Matt Tobin in a trade, and he'll see time at left tackle Friday as well. Luke Joeckel, currently the starting left guard, could also be an option at tackle if others falter.
On Tobin, who just joined the team Tuesday, Carroll said, "He's really smart. He is really technique sound. He's got versatility, he can play on both sides with no problem. He is learning things really quickly. We are going to throw him out and play him. He checked off a lot of boxes right off the bat—he can pick it up and is ready to go, he's a big kid, he is 6-6 and like 320 or something. He's got some real versatility to him that we really like, but we will see how he does on the left side first off."
3. Can the starting defense "be more dominant" this week?
Seven of Seattle's defensive starters have earned Pro Bowl honors at least once in their careers, and the Seahawks made several moves this offseason to improve their depth on that side of the ball, so there isn't a ton of concern surrounding a defense that has been one of the best in the NFL for the past five seasons. All of that being said, however, the starting defense doesn't feel like it has demonstrated its highest level of play so far this preseason in limited action.
"We can definitely be more dominant," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "But that's the beauty of preseason, that's the beauty of practice. I just want to make sure we come out Friday and put on that dominant performance that we're used to seeing, the fans are used to seeing. We want the first defense to go out there, get a turnover, make some big stops."
Linebacker Bobby Wagner had a similar response when asked about his hopes for this game: "I just want to see dominance, I want to see us execute our plays, I want to see us flying around, having fun. Preseason is really the only time we get a chance to actually hit somebody and take them down to the ground. We definitely want to kind of shake the rust off and make sure we get the ball rolling."
4. Can the running game find more consistency?
The Seahawks will be without two of their top running backs Friday, but even without Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise, Carroll wants to see a bit more out of the running game. The Seahawks made the running game a big focus this offseason, and fully expect to improve in that phase of the game this season, so a strong showing from the run blocking, as well as from Eddie Lacy and the rest of the backs would be encouraging.
"We'd like to see continued consistency," Carroll said. "We're making some yards; we'd like to see if we can really start to hit it so that we can establish a real good confidence about it and a good feeling about it. I don't have any question that we're going to run the football much better than we did last year… I am really excited about it. The entire offseason has been focused in that direction. It seems like everything has moved in that direction, and so in the next few weeks and maybe into the season, we will settle on who should be getting the ball the most, and I have no concerns about that at all. I love our guys. It's kind of just wait and see how it unfolds."
5. The continued development of the rookie defensive backs.
Cornerback Shaquill Griffin has played extensively in the past two games, and figures to do so again Friday night, and as a player who could have a big role right off the bat, his development is crucial for Seattle's defense. Playing opposite Richard Sherman, Griffin has been tested a lot thus far in the preseason, and very well could be again by the Chiefs, so there should be plenty of opportunity for the Seahawks to evaluate the third-round pick, who is competing for the starting job at right corner.
And it's not just Griffin who is looking to show what he can do in this game. Once the starters do come out, two more defensive back draft picks—safeties Delano Hill and Tedric Thompson—will try to build on the progress they have shown thus far. In an ideal world, neither of those players will be needed on defense this year, but should something happen to Earl Thomas or Kam Chancellor, the Seahawks are confident they have two promising options in those two rookies, not to mention free-agent signing Bradley McDougald, who is currently the top backup at both safety spots.
"Those guys have made really good progress throughout," Carroll said of Thompson and Hill. 'They're really smart players, they're disciplined, they're real serious, they're really tuned into the work. I know that the older players have accepted those guys because of the way they have approached their work and they've done a really good job doing that. Tedric had a particularly good game last week. He had his opportunities that he took advantage of. Hill has made—those guys can both play, so we're really excited that we have them. They're going to fit into special teams, certainly, and they're going to be ready to play when the time comes."