The Seahawks host the Minnesota Vikings Thursday night at CenturyLink Field in Week 2 of the preseason, a game that will see the starters "play quite a bit more," according to head coach Pete Carroll, than they did in last week's win at Kansas City.
But while plenty of attention will be paid to the starting units while they're still in the game, there is plenty more to keep an eye on during Thursday's game, from players making their preseason debuts after returning from injuries, to special teams play—Carroll wants to see some things cleaned up in kick coverage and the return game in particular—to how young players battling for roster spots are able to stand out.
With that in mind, here are six things to watch when the Seahawks host the Vikings Thursday night:
1. Does the offensive line build off an encouraging start?
Carroll spoke highly of the way his first-team line played against Kansas City, saying, "I really liked it. I thought we were tight on our pass protection, we really hit some runs against a really nice front. The best evaluation is our ones against their ones, a bunch of plays there, that gave us a really good feel… All in all, the group was solid."
This week, however, the starters will play longer than the three series they got last weekend, and they'll also probably be facing stiffer competition, as Minnesota is also likely to leave its starters in longer than the Chiefs did last week. Overall, the Seahawks feel very good about where their offense is two weeks into camp, and another encouraging game from the line would only add to that optimism.
"Honestly, not blowing smoke, I think we're really looking sharp," tight end Luke Willson said of the offense as a whole. "Even from where we started to now—I thought we started off really flying—I think you saw in the game we did a lot of good things, and I'm really looking forward to this week. The attitude, the expectation, the effort, the enthusiasm, just go down the list, it's all there right now, and I think it's just going to continue getting better."
2. Can the defensive line create more pressure?
The Seahawks are expected to again have one of the best defenses in the NFL, and they feel very good about their defensive line depth, but one thing Carroll would like to see improve from last week is a pass rush that registered no sacks and only three quarterback hits, with two of those coming from Cassius Marsh.
"We'd like to see the line of scrimmage better," Carroll said. "We would like to see the attack on the football better. We didn't get after the ball very well last week."
Michael Bennett didn't play last week, and Cliff Avril was only on the field for 12 snaps, so a lack of quarterback pressure in that game is hardly alarming, but that doesn't mean the Seahawks don't want to get better there this week. Richard Sherman also mentioned a lack of turnovers as something he'd like to see the defense improve upon, and few things help a defense create turnovers like a good pass rush.
3. Will Trevone Boykin clean up the pre-snap miscues from what was otherwise a promising debut?
Trevone Boykin did a lot of good things in his first preseason game, completing 16 of 26 passes for 188 yards, and most significantly leading a game-winning drive at the end of the game. But if the undrafted rookie out of TCU is going to win the backup quarterback job, there is still more work to do. In particular, Carroll wants to see Boykin clean up some of the pre-snap issues that were flaws in an otherwise impressive debut.
"I would like to clean up the huddle," Carroll said. "There were a couple mistakes he made making calls, and I'd like to see if we can get a good clean game there, and I just want to continue to draw information from his game—see what he does well and how he handles things again. Just because you do it once doesn't mean you can do it forever, so he has to come back with a good sharp game. Most importantly that he just manages all of the stuff that the quarterback has to manage from the huddle to the line of scrimmage to get the ball started."
4. How does running back look with Zac Brooks back and Alex Collins more involved?
While Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise are not expected to play, the Seahawks will have better depth at running back this week than they did against the Chiefs thanks to the return of rookie Zac Brooks from a hamstring injury. Fellow rookie Alex Collins is also expected to be much more involved after having just three carries in Kansas City, the result of Collins being limited in practice last week because of an ankle injury.
Until Rawls is ready for game action, Christine Michael is the No. 1 option at running back—and the way Michael has been playing, he might be in that discussion even after Rawls is back—but Thursday's game will also be a chance for Collins and Brooks to see significant game action, an important piece in the evaluation process at a position at which a lot of decisions still have to be made in terms of playing time and roster spots.
"It really did start to take some shape," Carroll said of the running back group. "Thomas got to take some reps in practice. He'll have a really solid week next week, if all goes well. We'll see what that means in terms of playing—we're not going to rush it at all—but he looked good, that was great to see. He and Christine were just kind of working off each other, so it was kind of fun to see how that fit. C.J. Prosise got the first chance to really kind of show something, but again it was such a limited week you can't tell, but he looks like a very promising prospect to fit in somewhere. Zac as well, Zac is a little bit ahead, he got a little bit more work; so the position just drastically shifted for when these guys all come back."
With Rawls expected to do more next week and Prosise on track to perhaps play in the third preseason game, this week's game is just part of an evaluation process that will gain even more clarity next week.
"Next week will be a really good test to see where we are and see what it looks like, if all goes well," Carroll said.
5. Which young roster hopefuls can step up under the lights?
From Boykin to Tanner McEvoy, who had three catches for a game-high 77 yards, including the game-winning touchdown reception, to safety Tyvis Powell, who made his mark on defense and on special teams, last week's preseason opener was full of undrafted players who made strong statements that they deserve consideration for roster spots.
So who steps up this week? Do last week's standouts strengthen their case, or is there another under-the-radar player who is about to make a name for himself Thursday night? Those are the kind of questions coaches want players to answer themselves, and in doing so make roster decision that much harder come September.
"Hopefully we will see some more information from the players that we're counting on to make this roster; to have a chance to make it," Carroll said. "We had some great surprises last week and hopefully there will be some more this week."
6. Does anyone stand out at positions with the "most untold outcomes?"
Throughout training camp, the talk among players and coaches has been that this year's roster is one of the deepest and most talented groups of 90 players assembled by Carroll and general manager John Schneider, perhaps even rivaling the 2013 team. When asked recently on 710 ESPN Seattle about competition at various position groups, Carroll singled out cornerback and receiver as two of the most competitive, saying there are "the most untold outcomes" at those positions. As a result, it would stand to reason that there is a lot to be gained or lost in these preseason games for roster-hopefuls at those two positions.
"You think of those guys and all the depth that we have and all the ability that we have, all the playmakers," quarterback Russell Wilson said of the competition at receiver. "There's about, I don't know, nine, ten guys that can play great football; I'm not sure how many more, there's probably another few after that. They're all competing for this opportunity to be really special and have the opportunity to make this 53-man roster, which is not going to be easy. We're looking forward to that, we like that."
At cornerback, players aren't just competing for spots on the roster, but also for significant playing time. So far in training camp, Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead have seen almost all of the first-team work both at right cornerback and in nickel packages when they're both on the field, but Tharold Simon is still in the mix there, and these preseason games can help him make his case for playing time.
"Tharold has had a great camp," Carroll said. "He has had a very, very consistent camp technique wise and he's a big guy out there, so he has done really well. I am probably most pleased with his progress, because we haven't seen him really be fit. He has been kind of banged up for such a long time, so he has to really compete, he is going to get a chance to play. He is going to play quite a bit in this game and the next couple weeks; as will Jeremy and Shead. Both of those guys too, they are playing well. We think that we've got a really good combination of guys that we can play and do some things that we can match up and like, so it looks to be a good group."
Look through the best photos from the Seahawks final practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center before Thursday night's preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings.