Not many people will remember the score of the Seattle Seahawks' preseason opener at Kansas City, because when all is said and done, the regular season and playoffs are what determine success for an NFL team, not games contested in August. Yet for the teams and players involved, this game, and the three that will follow, are very important for reasons that go far beyond winning and losing a game that won't count in the standings.
For the Seahawks and every NFL team, these four games represent a tune-up for the regular season, a chance to make sure the offensive line is in synch, or that the passing game is in rhythm, or that defensive players are ready to tackle at full speed. And for players, the stakes can vary depending on roster status. Starters are mostly just looking to knock off the rust, get used to full contact again, then turn their attention to the regular season. For roster hopefuls, however, these games can make the difference between a spot on the 53-man roster and landing on the waiver wire in a few weeks.
"There are so many things to see, so many areas to watch," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Friday before the team left for Kansas City. "For the coaches, so many exciting guys to see challenged for the first time in a game situation, and we'll start making sense of this thing. This is one huge opportunity to do that. We really do take the preseason seriously, we wait until these games to go full speed tackling and hitting, so that's what these games are for for us. So I'm anxious to see how the guys come out and I'm expecting them to be flying and doing it just like we want to and like we have in the past. We'll see how that goes come Saturday."
With that in mind, here are six things to watch when the Seahawks play the Chiefs Saturday:
1. The offensive line.
When offensive line coach Tom Cable was asked Thursday about the development of various players on his line, his answer was almost always some variation of, "I need to see him play." And Cable isn't trying to avoid questions or be intentionally vague, it's just that the nature of offensive line play means there is only so much evaluation that can happen in practice. Until players are in a full-contact game setting, Cable and the rest of Seattle's coaches can only see so much.
"(Preseason games) are important for the whole group, the whole team, but specifically for this group to play different combinations and figure out who plays well together and why, then collectively who is going to be our offensive line," Cable said. "That starts here on Saturday, and the process has begun, it started in the spring."
In particular these games are important for the line because it's almost an entirely different group than the line Seattle fielded in 2015. Carroll said that with J'Marcus Webb sidelined, Garry Gilliam will go from left tackle to right tackle, with free-agent addition Bradley Sowell playing left tackle. Justin Britt is expected to get the start at center, a position new to him this year, while the guards will likely be Mark Glowinski on the left side and rookie Germain Ifedi on the right side.
And beyond the starters, the Seahawks want to see what kind of depth they have, ranging from rookie Rees Odhiambo, who has been playing multiple positions in camp, all the way to 10-year veteran Jahri Evans, who signed last weekend.
"The preparation of learning has been very good, then we're practicing and working extremely hard, we're growing each day little by little," Cable said. "We have a long way to go but I like where we're headed, so now you have to see them play. That's the only way you can answer it."
2. Trevone Boykin and Jake Heaps battling for the backup QB job.
While the Seahawks know what they have with their starting quarterback and feel great about kicking off another season with Russell Wilson under center, there is far less certainty when it comes to the backup job. The two candidates for that spot are Trevone Boykin, an undrafted rookie out of TCU, and Jake Heaps, a local kid looking to live his NFL dream not far from where he grew up. Heaps spent time with the Jets in training camp last year, but is looking to crack a team's 53-man roster for the first time. Those two have both been impressive in training camp thus far, impressing coaches and teammates not just with their throwing ability, but also with the way they have come in and learned the offense.
"The simplest thing is they know the playbook better," receiver Doug Baldwin said. "So they can anticipate their throws, where they're going to go with the ball, their reads and they know the protection calls now, so it's a lot easier on them to be in the right spot mentally when their looking at the coverages. That progression has allowed them to kind of play free, and you see it now from Boykin and Jake."
But as quarterbacks coach Carl Smith points out, "It really doesn't count until it's against a live rush," which is why these preseason games are so big for Heaps and Boykin.
"They're everything," Heaps said. "It starts in practice here, building that trust, showing what you're capable of, then you've got to go out and perform in the preseason games. For guys like me and Trevone, this is our season right now to prove our worth and show that we can add value to this football team."
And while Boykin has been the No. 2 throughout camp and likely will be up first once Wilson leaves the game Saturday, don't count Heaps out of the race. The former Skyline High School star has more than held his own throughout camp and will be looking to back that up with a solid in-game performance.
"Jake Heaps, I think on paper, has been the most accurate quarterback in camp so far," Baldwin said. "They're all doing an excellent job. We're obviously looking forward to the competition and how it plays out."
3. Who shines at SAM?
Throughout camp, there has been a steady rotation at strongside linebacker in the starting defense between Mike Morgan, Cassius Marsh and Eric Pinkins, and that's a battle coaches are happy to let play out well into the preseason. Making the competition even more interesting is that all are very different players, from Morgan, a traditional linebacker who has played in Carroll's system since his freshman year at USC, to Marsh, a converted defensive end, to Pinkins, the most athletic of the bunch as a former defensive back. And as is the case with linemen in the trenches, there is only so much that linebackers can show in practice, putting emphasis on these four games to decide who replaces Bruce Irvin at strongside linebacker.
"Obviously Mike Mo is definitely going to bring a lot of experience because he's actually played the position in an actual regular-season game, but you know, we love what we're seeing out of Pink and Cassius," middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "And I think that first preseason game is really going to gauge it because we can be physical and do all the things like that, but as soon as we get out there and actually have to think and do things on the fly, that's really going to test guys and see how far they've come. So I think that's what everybody's kind of gauging on and looking forward to."
4. How do the rookie D-linemen look?
Just as the offensive line needs full-contact game action to show its progress, so too do defensive linemen, and that's especially true for the rookies. Veterans like Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Ahtyba Rubin could probably sit out the entire preseason and be ready for the opener, but for players like Jarran Reed and Quinton Jefferson, a pair of rookies vying for serious playing time, showing they can stand up to game action is a big step in their development.
Really, these games are big for any rookie, but for a rookie playing at the line of scrimmage, that's especially true.
"Every step of the way now, everything really counts in a big way for us and this is where we're really playing football," Carroll said. "We've been working towards it, the coaches have done everything they can, the players have really focused hard on preparation and the fundamentals of it, and now we take it to the game. At this point, the first impression that the guys have a chance to make, we're not going to go overboard one way or another, but it starts to add up. They'll get a lot of play time. The starters will play early in the game then our backup guys will get a ton of work. It'll be a great opportunity for them."
Rookie running back Alex Collins hauls in a long touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Trevone Boykin at Sunday's scrimmage during the eighth practice of Seahawks training camp.
5. What running backs are ready to step up?
With Marshawn Lynch retiring, there is a big opportunity for one or more running backs to take over this season, and while Thomas Rawls won't play, having just returned to practice from the physically unable to perform list earlier in the week, players like Christine Michael and rookie Alex Collins will get a long look in the preseason to show coaches that they deserve playing time and carries in 2016.
Two of Seattle's rookies, C.J. Prosise and Zac Books, won't play Saturday because of hamstring injuries, which means that beyond Collins and Michael, there will be a good opportunity to shine for recent additions Troymaine Pope and Cameron Marshall, as well as converted cornerback George Farmer, who just moved over to the offensive side of the ball this week.
"Troy Pope has done some really good things in practice and I'm anxious to see how he does," Carroll said. "George is going to get a shot to do some things we want to do with him, he has a special role that we're putting him in. It's early for him, he's just gotten three, four days of work, but you're going to see him play, he's going to be in the game. You'll see quite a bit of Alex in this game and Cameron Marshall will also play a good part."
6. What roster hopeful makes a name for himself?
One of the fun parts of the preseason is that a player or two who is not yet a household name to fans will emerge as a preseason star. And while preseason success doesn't always lead to a big regular season, there have been plenty of cases of players standing out in the preseason on their way to roster spots as late-round picks or undrafted free agents. Whether it's one of the aforementioned running backs, or a receiver battling for a spot like Douglas McNeil III or Kenny Lawler or Tanner McEvoy, or a pass-rusher like Ryan Robinson, or one of the undrafted rookie defensive backs or linebackers, it's a safe bet that a relatively unknown player will become a fan favorite over the next four weeks.
And while a long run or reception or a sack might be what turns heads in preseason games, what could actually make the biggest difference when it comes to making the team is what those roster hopefuls do on special teams.
"(Special teams) is where guys can jump out," Carroll said. "Can the linebackers show up? Can they make a run at making the roster? The DBs can they make a statement that they belong. So many guys over the years, (DeShawn) Shead and Kearse, those guys made their way by what they did in preseason special teams situations. It's out there for them, they're going to get an opportunity, I hope they'll come through and do some good things."
Look through the best photos from the 11th day of Seahawks Training camp held at Virginia Mason Athletic Center.