What to watch for in Seahawks’ preseason opener

Aug 8, 2013, 2:11 PM | Updated: 2:11 pm

By Danny O’Neil

SAN DIEGO – The start isn’t as important as the finish.

Turns out that can be true even before the regular season begins as the Seahawks outscored opponents 67-24 in the second half of the four exhibition games last year. It was proof of the depth of talent on this team, something that became evident as last season progressed, culminating in an unbeaten month of December.

Seattle won’t be picking up where it left off in Thursday night’s preseason opener at San Diego so much as trying to start fresh, and while there’s no question at quarterback this time around, there are plenty of things to watch for.

Opportunity knocks

A strong preseason could elevate rookie Luke Willson to the No. 2 tight end. (AP)

1. CB Walter Thurmond, fourth year. He’s the healthiest, strongest and fastest he has ever been as a Seahawk and not only is he competing for the role as Seattle’s fifth defensive back in the nickel package, he’s seeking a starting spot. That’s going to be tough to do considering Brandon Browner was a Pro Bowler in 2011 and Richard Sherman an All-Pro last season, but of all the players on Seattle’s roster, Thurmond is the one with the best chance to make a quantum leap up the depth chart if he validates his offseason work with a strong performance in the exhibition games.

2. TE Luke Willson, rookie (fifth round). He wasn’t expected to be much more than a specialist as a rookie when Seattle drafted him in the fifth round. A backup at Rice last year, he became the fastest tight end on the Seahawks’ roster the moment they drafted him, but can he hold up down after down while blocking NFL defenders? The plan for Willson has changed along with Seattle’s depth chart after the season-ending Achilles injury to Anthony McCoy. Factor in the sore foot that has kept starter Zach Miller off the practice field during training camp, and Willson will get a ton of opportunities this month to earn the backup role once Miller returns and get all the opportunities a second tight end would have in this offense.

3. OT Alvin Bailey, rookie (undrafted). He isn’t the offensive tackle that Seattle drafted. That would be Michael Bowie out of Northeastern State in Oklahoma, who was chosen in the seventh round. And Bailey isn’t the one with any experience in Seattle, either. That would be third-year man Michael Person, who was signed to Seattle’s practice squad last year and promoted to the 53-man roster. All Bailey has been is the most promising of Seattle’s young backup linemen so far in training camp, and Seattle has an opening at the backup tackle spot.

Something to prove

1. WR Chris Harper, rookie (fourth round). Seattle drafted him to be a bigger, stronger receiver capable of outmuscling defensive backs. But so far in training camp, it’s Phil Bates who has played that role better than Harper, and while it’s hard to see Seattle not keeping a fourth-round pick, remember that this team has cut a fifth-round choice coming out of training camp in each of the previous two years. The coaches have been praising Harper’s improvement over the course of training camp. Now it’s time for him to show it.

2. DT Jesse Williams, rookie (fifth round). He was considered the rookie who might have the best shot at earning a starting job, but the knee condition that caused him to slide in the draft order has hampered him in training camp, too. The Seahawks are trying to nurse him through August and get to the regular season because they believe he can be a difference maker up front. That said, there have been days at practice when his ability to manhandle blockers has been clearly hampered by his health. How he holds up in the rigors of a preseason game will be as good an indication as Seattle will get as to whether Williams will be able to make an immediate impact this year.

3. RB Spencer Ware, rookie (sixth round). Seattle evaluated him as one of the most physical runners in the draft, but also expressed the interest in trying him at fullback. He’s not a conventional fullback in the mold of the role Michael Robinson has filled, and entering this first preseason game, the only thing clear about Ware’s role is he’s going to get a heavy dose of carries to see where he fits. Through the first two weeks of practice, he has been competing with Derrick Coleman, who was on Seattle’s practice squad last year. Can Ware distinguish himself in a game situation?

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