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What to watch for as the Seahawks begin their Super Bowl sequel

Pete Carroll’s Seahawks can become the first NFL team in a decade to repeat as Super Bowl champions. (AP)

The Seahawks won’t begin their encore on Friday so much as they’ll begin staging a sequel.

That difference is the key to understanding the challenge for Seattle as it seeks to replicate last year’s Super Bowl season.

An encore is a chance to bask in the afterglow of a performance. It’s a feel-good conclusion. A punctuation mark.

A sequel is not only another production entirely, but it’s a performance that will almost by definition be measured against the original. And while it’s not impossible for the sequel to be better – “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Godfather: Part II” come to mind – it is very rare, which is kind of puzzling when you think about how often a similar cast and identical director fail to produce a worthy successor.

Which brings us to the Seahawks, who didn’t just match the franchise record for regular-season victories in 2013 and win the Super Bowl for the first time in the franchise’s 38 seasons. They did all that with the fourth-youngest roster ever for an NFL champion, which is the reason people were talking about titles – plural – before the team even had a chance to engrave “What’s Next?” inside the team’s Super Bowl rings given.

And on Friday, the Seahawks begin their training camp for a season in which they will seek to become the first team in 10 years to repeat as Super Bowl champs. They will be the hunted, the target on their back only enlarged by the swagger with which the team won last year’s title. But that won’t even be the biggest obstacle this team faces.

Success comes with a price in the NFL. That’s evident in the fact that Seattle lost nine key contributors from last year’s team – players who combined for 77 regular-season starts in 2013 alone. That price of success is also the reason there’s some uncertainty remaining around running back Marshawn Lynch and his reported desire for a new contract.

Lynch’s attendance is just one thing to watch for as the Seahawks open training camp on Friday, beginning rehearsal for what they hope will be a blockbuster sequel.

Three things to watch for Friday:

1. Marshawn Lynch’s presence

No one has said Seattle’s Pro Bowl running back won’t be there. Then again, he hasn’t said he will be in attendance, either, and after multiple reports in June that Lynch wants a new contract, his presence – or lack thereof – is the first thing to look for on Friday. Lynch is halfway through a four-year deal signed in 2012, and he has rushed for more than 1,200 yards each of the past three seasons. Even if Lynch is present at training camp, don’t expect much from him in August. He has a combined total of 16 preseason carries over the past three years. But if he’s not at training camp, expect the hand-wringing to begin in earnest.

2. The walking wounded

Don’t expect linebacker Bruce Irvin to be practicing Friday as he’s less than two months removed from hip surgery. He’s probably not going to be alone in his inactivity, either. Every year, there’s a handful of players who aren’t ready to begin practicing. Last year, receiver Percy Harvin was surprisingly among that group. There are at least three players in addition to Irvin who underwent offseason surgery: left tackle Russell Okung (toe), strong safety Kam Chancellor (hip) and linebacker Malcolm Smith (ankle).

3. The progress of two redshirt freshmen

Defensive tackle Jesse Williams and cornerback Tharold Simon were a pair of 2013 draft picks who didn’t spend a day on Seattle’s 53-man roster last year because of injury. Williams was placed on injured reserve in August because of a troublesome knee while Simon spent the season recovering from a foot injury that required surgery. Each looked impressive during the team’s offseason workouts. They’re also in the perfect positions to earn playing time given Seattle’s offseason attrition. Williams plays on a line that will be trying to replace Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald while Simon is in a defensive backfield that lost Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond.