RENTON – Seattle Seahawks starting offensive tackle Sean Locklear likely will not play in the season opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, still not recovered from a left knee strain suffered three weeks ago.
The Seahawks were hoping Locklear, who sat out the final two preseason games, would be available for the Bills game. But he was on the sidelines during the week’s first full practice Wednesday, and coach Mike Holmgren said it is not worth the risk to play him.
“If we were playing in the Super Bowl, I would think Locklear would suit up and have a shot at playing,” Holmgren said. “I’m not sure we’d be doing the right thing by pushing him into action.”
Fourth-year veteran Ray Willis will start in place of Locklear, facing primarily Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay, who had 21/2 sacks last season.
The team experimented with the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Willis at guard last season, hoping he could unseat incumbent Chris Gray. But he has been used almost exclusively at tackle this year and seems to have found his position.
“I’m very, very pleased with how Willis has been playing,” Holmgren said.
Meanwhile, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu returned to practice for the first time since bruising his knee in the third exhibition game and Holmgren said Tatupu will play on Sunday.
Holmgren said that the team’s top two draft picks, defensive end Lawrence Jackson and tight end John Carlson, also will start at their respective positions. Jackson unseated Darryl Tapp to win a starting spot, though Tapp is expected to be a regular part of the rotation.
“There’s a lot on their shoulders,” Holmgren said. “And as good as they are, and as smart as they are and all that stuff, there will be times when something will happen and you’ll go: ‘Why did that happen?’ And it was because we’re playing with young people.”
Holmgren also said that Maurice Morris will start at running back over Julius Jones, whom the team signed as a free agent, though he said both players are expected to share the workload.
Morris has been Shaun Alexander’s backup since he was drafted out of Oregon and has started intermittently when Alexander suffered various injuries. This will be the first time he has been given the starting job on his own merit.
“This is going into my seventh year, so I would have to say I’ve been waiting (for this moment) for seven years,” Morris said. “This is the first year like I had a chance to work hard and start or even play.”
Holmgren has not indicated exactly how he plans on splitting the carries between Morris and Jones, though he has said in the past that he will lean toward using whichever one proves to have more success early in the game.
“If you just go out there and make plays, I am pretty sure you are going to be out on the field longer. So the main thing is just to go out and make plays,” Morris said.
Holmgren also said that second-year Auburn product Courtney Taylor will start at flanker despite having only five career receptions. Though Nate Burleson worked at the end of the preseason as the team’s slot receiver in a three-receiver set, offensive coordinator Gil Haskell said Burleson will remain the split end and Logan Payne is likely to play the slot.
Neither Payne nor Jordan Kent has any regular-season experience among the team’s four healthy wide receivers, leaving Holmgren to say that he could use second-string quarterback Seneca Wallace “in an emergency.”
Despite uncertainty about all the changes the Seahawks have made, Holmgren said the thing that bothers him the most is what to do with the punt and kickoff returners.
He does not want to use Burleson or Taylor because they are the starting receivers. He does not want to use Wallace because he doesn’t want him to get hurt. And he has reservations about rookie Justin Forsett because Forsett fumbled a punt return in the final preseason game. Holmgren will use this week to determine who will get the job in the sometimes windy confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.
“That will be a game-time decision and I’ll have to sleep on that one,” Holmgren said. “It won’t be the most important decision I’ve ever made in my life, I don’t think, but it is ... going to have to come to me just a little bit.”
Holmgren said the players voted on their captains. They named Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones offensive captains, Deon Grant and Tatupu defensive captains and Lance Laury and D.D. Lewis captains for the special teams.