Pro Bowl safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor won't be on the field when the Seahawks host the Broncos in their first preseason game Friday. Star cornerback Richard Sherman, who has a minor hip flexor injury, will also likely be held out as a precaution.
So yes, Seattle's secondary will look quite a bit different in this game, and to a lesser degree throughout the season. Sherman should be back soon, Thomas, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, is expected to be ready for the start of the season, and Chancellor, who still has not reported to camp, figures to be back at some point. But beyond their three stars in the secondary, the Seahawks are also still without cornerbacks Jeremy Lane (arm/knee) and Tharold Simon (shoulder) who are on the physically unable to perform list. Starting cornerback Byron Maxwell left in free agency this offseason, as did Jeron Johnson, the top backup safety a year ago.
With offseason departures and injury questions, the Seahawks have been busy adding depth to their secondary, and Friday's game will be a chance to get a first look at the new faces in the Legion of Boom.
The Seahawks signed veteran corner Cary Williams in the offseason, and as of now he looks like the likely successor to Maxwell at right cornerback, and they signed Will Blackmon, who spent 2013 training camp in Seattle. The Seahawks added a pair of rookies during the spring—fifth-round pick Tye Smith and undrafted free agent Triston Wade—but as camp got going, they realized a little more depth was necessary. Seattle sent a sixth-round pick to Detroit for second-year corner Mohammed Seisay, who at a long-armed 6-2, 202 pounds, is very much built like a Seattle cornerback. Rounding out the group is Douglas McNeil III, a former receiver who just switched positions last week. McNeil, who is listed at 6-3, 200 pounds, fits the mold, but he has a lot of learning to do having last played cornerback in high school. Still, as a former practice squad player who before that was in the Arena Football League, McNeil is more than willing to do whatever is asked of him if it helps him make the team.
"They liked my skillset," McNeil said. "Their prototypical cornerback is about my size, and with the speed that I have, they just wanted to take a look at it… I'm not opposed to going to defense. I'm an aggressive player, so it fits my style of play."
If Williams ends up holding onto the starting job at right corner, then next competition to watch is in the nickel spot. Blackmon appears to have a slight lead on Marcus Burley for that spot now, but Blackmon may sit out this game with groin injury, which would give Burley a chance to help his cause. Smith will get a good look both as an outside corner and in the nickel spot, and he, along with the rest of the group, will be battling for roster spots behind the starters.
"We've had great battles out here," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Our guys have gone after it. So I'm going to tell them, keep playing like we've been playing and see what the game bring you. We have a lot of competition going on in the corner spots in particular… I'm really excited to see the corners go and see what they do. They really take into the style and technique and all that so we'll see how it carries over. I think they are prepared to play well and I am expecting that."
That's a lot of uncertainty, and we haven't even gotten to the safeties. Even assuming Chancellor and Thomas are back sooner than later, there are question marks behind them thanks to Johnson signing in Washington a year after Chris Maragos, another top backup, also left in free agency. So far DeShawn Shead and Dion Bailey have split time in Chancellor's strong safety spot, while Steven Terrell has been the starting free safety. Not only is this game important for those three because it gives them a good chance to show what they can do while working with the starters, but also because they and a handful of other safeties are battling for what are likely just two roster spots.
For whoever plays safety tonight, those players know they aren't and can't be Thomas and Chancellor, but they can do what's asked of them and play good football.
As Sherman noted earlier in camp, the Shead and Terrell have played, "disciplined football. They're very sound football players. They're exactly where they need to be when they need to be there. They're assignment-sound, they understand the concepts, they understand the verbiage of the defense, they understand how to communicate, that's huge."
The Seahawks have four preseason games to answer a lot of questions in their secondary, starting with Friday's game against Denver. The talent is there for the LOB to remain the best secondary in the NFL, but this year more than others, there is a level of uncertainty that adds intrigue—or concern, depending on your outlook—to the next few weeks.