When the Seahawks and Raiders play their final preseason game Thursday, most of the starters won't play much, and some won't play at all, but that doesn't mean this game isn't important. Sure, it would be nice to see Seattle's first-team offense put together a long touchdown drive when that group makes a brief appearance, but what the fourth preseason game is really all about is the battle for roster spots. That second half that a lot of casual fans will tune out? That could be the difference between a spot on the 53-man roster and the waiver wire for a few players, so plenty is at stake even if the stars are wearing baseball caps and the final score will be forgotten by next week.
"It's the fourth quarter of the preseason as we look at it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "It's the finish, and so some guys can make a name for themselves, some guys can solidify what they've done already, it's different for different players."
Here are five things to watch when the Seahawks host the Raiders in preseason game No. 4.
1. How does the secondary depth sort itself out?
Early in camp there was concern about the depth of the secondary with so many players out with injuries, but now that the Seahawks have almost everyone back other than their starting safeties—Earl Thomas is on track to play in the opener but won't play in this game, and Kam Chancellor still has not reported—there is pretty strong depth at both safety and cornerback, meaning some good players are fighting for roster spots.
At safety, Dion Bailey is preparing to perhaps be the Week 1 starter depending on Chancellor's situation, and DeShawn Shead seems to have a job secured thanks to his versatility and special teams play, but beyond that it's pretty wide open. Steven Terrell has been the starter in place of Thomas so far, but the Seahawks also like what they've seen from Ronald Martin Jr. Kennan Lambert and Ryan Murphy have both had fewer opportunities, but they will get a good chance tonight to show what they can do.
At cornerback, meanwhile, Tharold Simon is back for just his second preseason game and is looking to show he should be a candidate for the starting job currently held by Cary Williams. Mohammed Seisay, who came to Seattle in a trade early in camp, missed the last two games with an injury, so he'll be looking to show he belongs on the roster. Will Blackmon, Marcus Burley and Tye Smith are all candidates for the nickel job, though Blackmon appears to be in the lead so far, and receiver-to-corner convert Douglas McNeill III has one last shot to show what he can do at a new position.
2. Which receivers use this final game to perhaps win a job?
Receiver might be the most improved position, from a depth standpoint, on the roster this season. Former University of Washington standouts Kasen Williams and Kevin Smith have both made big contributions throughout camp and in the preseason games; Super Bowl XLIX hero Chris Matthews is way ahead of where he was at this time last year; B.J. Daniels has been very impressive after making the switch for quarterback; and of course Seattle also added Tyler Lockett in the draft.
All that depth, however, means one or two good receivers aren't going to be on this roster after Saturday's cuts. The Seahawks currently have eight receivers, and while they kept seven on the opening roster last season, there were six for most of the season. For a young player like Williams, Smith or Daniels, this game could be a last chance to win a spot.
3. Which young linemen step up?
So far, all the focus has been on starting jobs along the offensive line, but now that that appears to be settled, it's time to figure out which four or five other offensive linemen will make the team. The Seahawks drafted three O-linemen, Mark Glowinski, Terry Poole and Kristjan Sokoli, and all have had varying degrees of success, but still have plenty to prove in a game setting. They and others like KeaVon Milton and Will Pericak will be looking to show they belong on the team even if they're not quite ready for starting roles.
"It's huge," offensive line coach Tom Cable said. "There's an opportunity here really for four or five guys who are battling their rear ends off to make it. We like how they've progressed. Pericak, where he has come, Glowinski, where he has come; KeaVon has been up and down, Terry Poole has been up and down, so they all have this humongous opportunity to just go out and be normal, which means do what you're asked to do, and do it the best you can consistently. So it's a huge evaluation night."
And it's not just the offensive linemen who still have work to do. On defense, it appears that Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Brandon Mebane, Ahtyba Rubin, Frank Clark, Jordan Hill and Cassius Marsh will for sure have roles, but that means a couple more spots are up for grabs. Rookie T.Y. McGill has been a surprise in camp; Jesse Williams is looking to not just be the feel-good story of the preseason, but also be a player who can contribute this season; and David King, Julius Warmsley, Demarcus Dobbs and rookie Obum Gwacham have all also looked promising at times.
4. Is the running back depth OK?
Marshawn Lynch won't play in this game, Carroll made that clear after Lynch's three-play appearance in San Diego, and Robert Turbin is sidelined by a high-ankle sprain, so the Seahawks are going to get a very good look at Christine Michael, Thomas Rawls and Rod Smith in this game.
There has been plenty of criticism thrown Michael's direction after the 2013 second-round pick failed to make much of an impact in his first two seasons, but the Seahawks like what they're seeing out of him this preseason. Seattle brought veteran back Fred Jackson in for a visit this week, but as of now he is unsigned and Michael looks like he could open the season as the No. 2 behind Lynch presuming Turbin doesn't make a miraculous recovery from a relatively serious injury.
"He's very explosive," Carroll said of Michael. "He reported in great shape as I said a while back, and allowed himself to really take advantage of being ready every day. He's worked really hard, he's had a very, very good camp. He showed you a play last week that he broke and went out the back door of a power play. That cut doesn't happen that much in football, it's rare that a guy sees that. He took advantage of it and made it a big play for us, and set us up in the red zone. He also will take some chances. You've seen him take some chances to try to get out of trouble, and sometimes it hurts him a little bit, but he's an explosive football player and he's got a lot of potential to make things happen… He's grown with us, and continues to be a guy that we really care a lot about. We try to figure out how to utilize him at his very best, and so we'll continue doing that."
And if Turbin is out for a while and Jackson isn't signed, the Seahawk might have to find room on the roster for an extra back who might not have otherwise made the cut, which could make this a big game for Rawls and Smith.
5. Who stands out on special teams?
For just about every player battling for a job that is mentioned above, one of the best ways to separate from the pack is to make contributions on special teams. The reality is that a lot of backups won't see the field on offense or defense once the regular season starts, but they'll still be expected to contribute on special teams. So maybe a receiver who makes the final cut Saturday won't have a big catch in this game, but he might pop a long return or make a big tackle on punt coverage. Or maybe the player who earns the last spot on the offensive line doesn't have a perfect game in pass protection, but he opens a few lanes for kick and punt returns. Standing out on offense or defense is great for any roster hopefully, but doing so on special teams Thursday night might be even more meaningful.