Clayton: The Seahawks’ many questions entering their opener vs the Broncos
It’s been a long time since the Seahawks have entered a season like this in which there are more questions than answers.
On Sunday against the Denver Broncos, the Seahawks hope to see where they truly are after resetting their roster and their attitude. The Broncos, meanwhile, are another team trying to figure out where they are.
Denver added Case Keenum at quarterback and is starting third-round choice Royce Freeman at halfback, and clearly the Broncos are more talented than their 5-11 record in 2017 suggests.
Now let’s get into some of the questions for the Seahawks in Sunday’s game.
• The right side of the Seahawks’ offensive line remains a big concern, and the line will be challenged plenty in the first two games. The Broncos have Bradley Chubb and Von Miller on the outside, while next week’s opponent, the Chicago Bears, have Leonard Floyd and Khalil Mack. This week, right guard D.J. Fluker is out with a hamstring injury, so getting the start is J.R. Sweezy, who has missed more time than he has practiced because of a high ankle sprain. Sweezy was great when he was first with the Seahawks from 2012-15, but he’s had so little time to work with the other blockers since coming back to the team in training camp. Right tackle Germain Ifedi was taken off the injury list Friday despite an ankle issue, so he will play. His big challenge is being on the side as Miller, a six-time Pro Bowl linebacker.
• One of the big mysteries will be whether Earl Thomas will return to the secondary after ending his holdout earlier this week. It makes sense to do it even if it’s on a limited basis. Tedric Thompson beat out everyone for the free safety spot and earned a chance to get the start, but Thomas is the difference-maker on defense who sets the table for better play in the secondary. His range will make it easier for a cornerback position that is in transition.
• Back to the blocking scheme, you will have to think the Seahawks will use more sets with two tight ends with Nick Vannett and Will Dissly. Both players are good blockers, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a blocking tight end next to Ifedi to help him when Miller rushes.
• One of the fun things to watch will be rookie punter Michael Dickson, both for the mile-high altitude and because there were stories that some people with the Broncos laughed when the Seahawks traded up with them in the fifth round to draft a punter. At sea level, Dickson is one of the most unique punters I’ve seen. He’s a 50-yard punter with a 47-yard net who can place most of his kicks inside the 10 – and now we’ll get to see what he can with the thin air in Denver.
• On defense, the two biggest questions for the Seahawks are the pass rush and the defense’s ability to create turnovers. Let’s focus on the former. Frank Clark is now the No. 1 defensive end, but who is No. 2? Will it be Quinton Jefferson, Rasheem Green or Dion Jordan? Jordan is technically the No. 2, but he just got activated from the PUP list for a leg injury. Pete Carroll said Jordan will play, but for how many plays?
• It’s not out of question that the Seahawks could start three rookies on defense, which could be a challenge in this road game. Shaquem Griffin will get the start at weakside outside linebacker for K.J. Wright, while Tre Flowers could be pulled in at right cornerback if Dontae Johnson can’t do much because of a groin injury (Johnson is questionable for the game but expected to play, while Carroll said Friday he thinks Flowers is ready to start if needed). Green could get a lot of playing time at end, too. Even though there is clearly talent in this rookie class, that is a lot of youth.
• This will be a good test for the running game. Chris Carson has been sensational, while Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise are expected to help out. Can the Seahawks get to around 30 or 32 rushing attempts? If they can, it would give Russell Wilson a great chance to win the game.