The Seahawks’ preseason home opener represented something beyond a standard-issue exhibition game for three guys recently associated with the color purple.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and wide receiver Sidney Rice came to the Hawks from the Minnesota Vikings, Saturday night’s featured guests at CenturyLink Field.
Bevell proved instrumental in the acquisition of Jackson, whose first order of business was to talk to coach Pete Carroll and advocate the benefits of signing Rice, a free agent.
Or not-so free: His $41 million contract includes a guaranteed $18.5 million, a whole lot more than the Vikings were willing to invest in a receiver who struggled with injuries to his knees and hip during three of his four seasons at Minnesota.
But the one season Rice played entirely at full strength, in 2009, revealed a pass-catching wonder whose 6-foot-4 height made him a mismatch for defensive backs. Rice’s ability to dominate opponents on jump-ball passes could serve as something of a security blanket for Jackson, who has developed a reputation for throwing more accurately in practice than in games that count.
Although the 20-7 defeat to the Vikings didn’t count for anything, it gave fans their first extended glimpse of the post-Matt Hasselbeck Seahawks, whose quarterback is among the nine offensive positions overhauled from last season.
A week after Carroll limited him to two uneventful possessions in San Diego, Jackson played through the first half. Meanwhile, Rice, who sat out the Chargers game with a minor shoulder ailment, made his Seahawks debut.
For all their supposed familiarity with Bevell’s offensive system – and with each other – Jackson and Rice appeared to inhabit dissimilar wave lengths. The new quarterback didn’t throw to the $41 million receiver until 4:36 remained in the first quarter, when the ball was overthrown down the right sideline.
A few minutes later, some apparent confusion on a downfield route preceded another overthrow to Rice, who finally caught two, short passes – late in the second quarter, against the Vikings’ No. 2 defensive unit.
And though there was a jump-ball completion to a tall Seattle receiver enjoying a mismatch advantage, the pass was to the 6-5 Mike Williams.
The struggle to establish a connection between Jackson and Rice was symptomatic of an offense racing against the clock to develop some continuity. Nine position changes would be a challenge during a normal offseason, much less an offseason truncated by a 136-day lockout.
What does the offense need to work on before the 2011 schedule kicks off at San Francisco on Sept. 11? The better question is: What doesn’t it need to work on?
Shoddy pass protection found the Vikings harassing Jackson virtually every time he dropped back in the pocket. It says something about the first-team offense that its most effective play was the broken play.
Jackson’s elusiveness in evading the likes of unblocked All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen was more than an example of football savvy.
It was a life skill.
Jackson finished the first half with 11 completions in 21 attempts and an interception, which explains his eyesore quarterback rating of 40.8. But the interception wasn’t his fault. A pass delivered to receiver Golden Tate slipped out of his fingers and into the grasp of Vikings rookie cornerback Marcus Sherels, who returned it for a 64-yard touchdown.
It was Tate’s second drop of the first quarter, not that we’re counting or anything.
As for Williams’ jump-ball catch over safety Jamarca Sanford, it set the Seahawks up for a first-and-goal series at the Minnesota 2. Four fruitless plunges into the line later, the Seahawks were still at the Vikes’ 2.
New offensive line coach Tom Cable has drawn preliminary raves for his work in revamping a group that includes two rookies (right guard John Moffitt and right tackle James Carpenter) and a free agent (veteran left guard Robert Gallery.) But Cable is a zone-blocking proponent, not a miracle worker, and with left tackle Russell Okung nursing his second high-ankle sprain in two seasons, the Cable Guys can’t be expected to jel anytime soon.
Things at CenturyLink Field got interesting once the benches emptied for the second half. Reserve quarterback Charlie Whitehurst followed up on last week’s solid performance at San Diego by distributing completions to seven different receivers. None of the completions was longer than 14 yards, but the succession of pinpoint throws – he was 9-for-10 in the third quarter – put the Vikings on their heels and the offense on the scoreboard after Whitehurst found tight end Anthony McCoy in the back of the end zone, early in the fourth quarter.
“Charlie did play good,” Carroll said. “It was right in his wheelhouse. He could have been 18-for-19.
“I love that Charlie played well, but we need to give Tarvaris some help.”
Given how the first-team offense labored with Jackson behind center – and how the second-team offense achieved some precision with Whitehurst – it was inevitable that many fans among the announced crowd of 65,599 would participate in a “Char-LEE!, Char-LEE!” chant.
His team trailing 13-7, and the clock ticking toward the two-minute warning, Carroll made an unusual decision for a second exhibition game: He extended Whitehurst the opportunity to lead the offense on a potential game-winning touchdown drive.
But a pass was dropped on first down, and soon the Seahawks were in punt formation.
Whitehurst’s attempt to lead a second-half comeback was a diversion from the bigger picture: The first-team offense has a lot of work to do, and not much time to do it.
Jackson needs improved blocking, of course, but he could help himself by developing a better recognition of defensive fronts.
And as long as the second-team quarterback is firing the completions that jump-start a dead-battery offense, Jackson might want to think about something else.