The Seahawks open preseason play on Thursday night when they host the Minnesota Vikings at Lumen Field. And though Pete Carroll was intentionally vague about which starters will play and how much they'll play, there are still plenty of intriguing players and competitions to keep an eye on, regardless of how much, if at all, players like Bobby Wagner, Geno Smith, Tyler Lockett, Quandre Diggs and DK Metcalf are on the field.
With that in mind, here are six things to watch in Thursday's night's game:
1. Ben Burr-Kirven's first game in two years.
Preseason games might not usually be a big deal to veteran NFL players, but for linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, taking the field for Thursday's game will be a significant accomplishment. Two years ago in a preseason game, Burr-Kirven suffered a knee injury that included not just an ACL tear, but nerve damage that threatened to end his NFL career.
Two years and multiple surgeries later, Burr-Kirven re-signed with the Seahawks last month, and will be on the field as he continues to attempt a comeback and earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
"This is really an exciting opportunity for him, and for us to see him come back and play," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "It's been a long road. He looked really good, looked very comfortable, and looked full speed. He'll be involved in special teams and will get plays with the defense. It's an inside and personal deal for all of us, to see him have made it back after it was such a long haul for him. Excited for his chances."
2. What kind of first impression do the rookies make?
While first-round pick Devon Witherspoon, who is dealing with a hamstring injury, isn't expected to play Thursday, just about every other rookie should see significant playing time as they continue to compete for their roles on the team. For a player like Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Derick Hall or Zach Charbonnet, Thursday night can be a chance to further cement a significant role that will see them contribute right away, while for other late-round picks or undrafted free agents, preseason games can be where they show they deserve a shot on the 53-man roster.
Preseason games should be especially valuable to players in the trenches like center Olu Oluwatimi, guard Anthony Bradford, defensive end Mike Morris and Hall, all of whom will experience a level of physical play that's all but impossible to replicate in practice.
"We need to see all of the new guys," Carroll said. "We've got really competitive spots that we need information on. Everybody needs to play football and these games are hugely important. For the guys we haven't had the chance to see before in our uniforms and playing for us, it's crucial. They've got to show something. They've got to show that the buildup and all of the prep to get us to this point, we've taken every step in a fashion that's in order. This next step is full running and hitting, and we have to see how it goes."
3. "Running and hitting," especially on special teams.
It's common to hear Carroll use the term "running and hitting" when talking about what he wants to see in the preseason. Even in a padded practice, NFL teams don't tackle to the ground and tend to avoid full-speed collisions, but the three preseason games are a chance for players to practice tackling and hitting in a true game setting.
"Running and hitting, getting these guys out there," Carroll said when asked what he wants to see Thursday. "The full-speed stuff. We want these preseason games to give us the chance to make sure we're at that mentality and technical side of what we need to do. We'll find out what we need to work on. We have three full weeks to do this and almost 200 plays to get it done. Preseason games are really important to us."
Where preseason games can be particularly valuable is when it comes to evaluating special teams plays, whether that's seeing how kick or punt returners perform or how coverage units do trying to stop those returns.
"The young guys, you always look for them to splash in special teams so they can make a mark, to give you something to go on, and two, you can determine once you've accumulated enough plays under-center," Carroll said. "Special teams give you a chance to show the nature of the kid, how much it means to them, how instinctive they are, and how tough they are. We're going to feature our guys in those situations."
4. Does either center make a strong case for the starting job?
While veteran Evan Brown is in the lead for now, center is still one of the more closely contested battles in training camp when it comes to a competition for a starting spot, with rookie Olu Oluwatimi pushing for the job as well. The job won't be decided in one game, but it's a good chance, especially for a rookie like Oluwatimi, to make a good first impression.
"We continue to see it going in a competitive sense, with Evan ahead," Carroll said earlier this week. "He's ahead because of his experience, if we were playing today, he would go first. Olu doing a great job, hasn't had anything negative about him besides his wrist being sore for a couple of days that held him back. Other than that, he is right in there as the competition continues."
5. What happens at cornerback?
With Riq Woolen still working his way back from a knee injury and with Devon Witherspoon dealing with a hamstring injury, the Seahawks won't be at full strength at what is one of their deepest positions, but there will still be a lot of talented cornerbacks looking to show what they can do on Thursday night.
Michael Jackson, last year's starting left cornerback, has been on the right side with Woolen out, while Tre Brown, a starter as a rookie in 2021 before suffering a patellar tendon injury, has been on the left side with the starting defense, and both of those players have enjoyed great training camps, looking very much like players who are going to be hard to push out of the starting lineup. Depending on how much Brown and Jackson play, Thursday can be a good chance to add to an impressive summer, and when it comes to depth, everyone from veterans like Artie Burns to undrafted rookies are all fighting for their roles on the team.
The nickel cornerback spot is also an interesting one, with last year's starting nickel, Coby Bryant, competing with Witherspoon, while Bryant is also getting work at safety.
6. Who steps up at receiver beyond the big three of DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Jaxon Smith-Njigba?
The Seahawks have one of the league's best receiver duos in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, and at this point, it would be a pretty big surprise if first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba doesn't open the season as Seattle's No. 3 receiver, which is essentially a starting spot in today's NFL. But beyond that, the competition is on for roster spots and playing time, especially with Dareke Young currently sidelined with an injury and with Dee Eskridge facing a six-game suspension to start the season.
Behind that group, there are several receivers all vying for a couple of spots on the 53-man roster, and preseason games will be crucial, not just to show what they can do on offense, but also on special teams. Jake Bobo, an undrafted rookie out of UCLA, was the standout in last week's mock game, while Cody Thomspon brings more experience and has been solid throughout camp. Then there are players like Cade Jonson and Easop Winston Jr., who could both feature in the return game, giving them another chance to prove their worth.
"It's a good group, it's a really good group," Carroll said. "Cody has just been tremendous for us in terms of doing things right. He knows all the spots. He can do anything, and he's been a factor on special teams as well. He's going to get some good reps there, he can catch it, he can run, he can run routes, he knows the system, and he's a good blocker. He's all of that so, excited to see how that all works out."
The Seahawks got in a practice this afternoon in Renton, Wash. on Aug. 9, 2023 ahead of their Thursday night preseason game.