Pete Carroll promised opportunities for young Seahawks.
Some seized them more than others.
The Seahawks coach praised rookies Cassius Marsh, Paul Richardson and fifth-year free agent A.J. Jefferson following Thursday’s 21-16 defeat at Denver in the exhibition opener. He kept undrafted rookie middle linebacker Brock Coyle in from the start of the game into halftime, after all other starters had exited. And he got a better idea who might be able to add depth to this Super Bowl champion team in time for the first real game Sept. 4 against Green Bay.
“Cassius Marsh caught my eye. He did a nice job,” Carroll said of the defensive end and fourth-round draft choice from UCLA, who had four tackles and Seattle’s only sack.
“Paul Richardson did a real nice, great job for us. First time out, I love to see that,” Carroll said.
Richardson, playing near his college home of Colorado, caught four of the five passes thrown his way. The small, speedy second-round draft choice was part of Seattle’s second set of wide receivers. He entered the game with quarterback Tarvaris Jackson at the 2:49 mark of the second quarter and immediately caught a 12-yard pass on the sideline. That started the drive to Steven Hauschka’s field goal for the Seahawks’ 10-7 lead by halftime.
After Terrelle Pryor entered at quarterback five minutes into the second half, three of his first four throws went Richardson’s way. The rookie caught two of them for 17 yards.
Despite the positive initial reviews, Richardson saw two areas he needs to improve: his blocking and his listening.
“Definitely a good learning experience,” he said. “I’ve just got to pay attention, listen to the whole play so I don’t make small mental errors, knowing what guy to block and execute. It was good to get my feet wet.”
The facts Carroll praised his play yet Richardson criticized its finer points is a good sign the he is thinking the way coaches want rookies to in order to continually improve.
“Paul Richardson, he’s going to be special, I believe,” Pryor said.
Jefferson, whom Minnesota released last November following an arrest on charges of domestic assault before he ended 2013 on Cleveland’s injured-reserve list with an ankle injury, broke up two passes and intercepted a third from Denver’s Brock Osweiler in a six-play span late in the third quarter.
He sprained his ankle while getting tackled on an 11-yard return of his interception deep in Denver territory, though Jefferson later said he was “fine, I’ll be all right.”
His play deep over the middle set up Hauschka’s third field goal and a 16-14 Seahawks lead early in the fourth quarter.
“I guess they wanted to test me, see what I was made of and keep going after me,” Jefferson said, smiling. “I was just trying to represent Seahawks football like I am supposed to.”
With the quality of the cornerbacks in front of him on the depth chart — Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane — Jefferson needs to keep making plays to get a roster spot by month’s end.
Coyle was credited with five tackles while playing in front of about two dozen friends and family members from his hometown of Bozeman, Montana. His mother Tina was there. So was his father Chris, who flew in from Connecticut for his son’s first NFL “game.”
Coyle started at middle linebacker with Bobby Wagner still out with a hamstring injury. The undrafted former Montana Grizzlies captain showed good range running downfield in pass coverage, once hustling to make a tackle by peeling back following a deep catch. He also scraped off blocks and moved well laterally to make tackles against the run.
He got a thrill out of going from Montana and the Big Sky Conference to starter for the Super Bowl champions in a few whirlwind months.
“Obviously, it’s faster. And,” he said with a chuckle, “being across from Peyton Manning is different than anything I’d experienced in college.”
Coyle called plays for a plain, relatively passive defense Carroll would never use in a regular-season game. Seattle mostly dropped seven and sometimes eight into coverage, straight rushing only three or four down linemen and eschewing stunts. That afforded Manning time to play pitch and catch.
Safety Earl Thomas, who had a team-high six tackles in less than a quarter and half, said: “Oh, we stayed real basic. I don’t think we blitzed at all. We just stayed in our normal three-deep (coverage).”
Asked how he felt the defense executed those base sets, Thomas echoed Carroll’s postgame theme: “Execution comes down to the penalties. We need to eliminate the penalties. If you take (Thursday’s 13) penalties away, then we are good money.”
The worst foul was by one young reserve who didn’t shine. Cornerback Tharold Simon didn’t help his roster status when he got ejected for slapping the facemask of Denver’s Gerell Robinson in the end zone seconds after a Denver touchdown.
Carroll called the penalties “bad football” that he intends to clean up.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The Seahawks were off Friday and Saturday. They return to training camp practice Sunday morning. It’s another condensed week before Friday’s exhibition at home against San Diego.