By Danny O’Neil
The third preseason game is the most important one for any NFL team, a game in which the starters generally play into the second half and the closest thing teams get to a dress rehearsal.
And with two preseason games left, the Seahawks have one starting job totally up for grabs. It’s not quite as significant a vacancy as last season when Seattle was still trying to determine a starting quarterback halfway through the preseason schedule, but the stakes are pretty high, and not just because defensive tackle Tony McDaniel is the tallest player on the team.
With a strong showing against Green Bay on Friday, veteran defensive tackle Tony McDaniel can begin to nail down Seattle’s only unsettled starting spot. (AP)
1. DT Tony McDaniel, eighth year. No Seahawk has more on the line this week than McDaniel. He missed two weeks because of a groin injury, and he’s fortunate that in his absence no one stepped up in that time to grab hold of the starting job at defensive tackle. Rookie Jesse Williams has missed enough practice time this month to question how much he can contribute this season while Jordan Hill has a strained biceps that has left his status day-to-day. But this isn’t a job McDaniel will win by default. He’s going to need to show Seattle he can hold down that starting job. This is the start of what amounts to a two-week audition.
2. WR Stephen Williams, fourth year. He has caught four passes in two preseason games, three of those receptions covering more than 35 yards and two resulting in touchdowns. The bad news is that Williams hasn’t provided much more than a deep threat. He’s not a physical blocker who’s going to take on a safety downfield, and the early returns on special teams haven’t been great, either. That doesn’t mean he can’t make this team, but it does mean he has to be so singularly impressive as a receiver that he forces Seattle to keep him.
3. RB Spencer Ware, rookie (sixth round). Seattle drafted him with the stated intention of trying him at fullback, and two weeks ago there were some who thought Derrick Coleman was outplaying Ware in training camp. After two preseason games, Ware is second on the team in rushing, and the question isn’t whether he’ll make the team but whether he’ll be a guy that gets some carries. Seattle evaluated Ware as the most physical running back available in the 2013 draft. Now, the absence of fullback Michael Robinson because of illness opens up the possibility Ware will be plugged in at fullback, too.
Something to prove
1. WR Chris Harper, rookie (fourth round). Harper has caught two passes in two preseason games, but it’s not the production that’s as indicative of his status as his playing time. Williams and Phil Bates have been ahead of him in the rotation, and anyone wondering if Seattle would actually release a fourth-round pick should consider how swiftly the Seahawks shipped out guard John Moffitt. Draft position doesn’t guarantee anything. That said, receiver is a position that can require some patience. Just consider Golden Tate. But this team is better stocked than it was in 2010, which means there’s less time to make an impact. These two weeks are important for Harper.
2. FS Chris Maragos, fourth season. Maragos’ speed made him the only viable backup to Earl Thomas last year, and while he’s still fast as a rocket, the Seahawks are exploring alternatives. Jeron Johnson already established himself as the backup to Kam Chancellor at strong safety. The fact Johnson entered the game as the free safety for a first-half series, replacing Thomas with the first-unit defense, shows Seattle is evaluating him as a backup there, too. If Seattle decides he’s the preferred backup at both spots, the trickle-down effect could make Maragos a casualty. He’s competing with Deshawn Shead for a job right now.
3. QB Brady Quinn, seventh season. The competition for the backup job looks pretty clear given the way Tarvaris Jackson has played in the first two preseason games and when you include his extensive experience playing for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. But even if Jackson has the job wrapped up, Quinn has plenty to play for: namely, a job elsewhere in the league. If he gets a chance to play in this game, he’d be best served by cutting it loose and trying to make an impression.