The Seahawks must cut 22 players from their roster, down to the 53-man limit for the start of the regular season, by 1 p.m. Seattle time on Saturday.
Be advised: It may not be what the roster is for the opener Sept. 11 against Miami, because 31 other teams will be cutting, too, putting 682 options in play for Seattle to assess.
I was struck late Thursday after the preseason finale at Oakland how tepid Pete Carroll was on current No. 2 quarterback Trevone Boykin and injured-again defensive tackle Jordan Hill, in particular. I’m sensing the Seahawks are becoming increasingly likely to sign a veteran backup quarterback, another offensive lineman, a new long snapper and veteran depth for an injury-filled defensive line before the opener in nine days.
But for now, here’s my 53. Opening-game starters in bold:
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TIGHT ENDS: Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, Nick Vannett, Brandon Williams.
Graham was in full pads again before Thursday’s preseason finale at Oakland. But he may miss multiple games recovering from that ruptured patellar tendon in his knee from November.
Carroll compared Graham’s recovery to that a year ago of Earl Thomas. The three-time All-Pro safety missed most of last preseason recovering from a shoulder injury but returned to play in the 2015 opener.
"Jimmy worked out great. His confidence is way up," Carroll said after Thursday’s game. "He’s demonstrated he can go out and battle with us on the practice field, which is the same thing that Thomas did. He’s around 10 days behind Thomas’s progress so we’ll see what that means. He’s doing everything he can to make it back."
Vannett, the rookie third-round pick, has a high-ankle sprain. He may not be ready for the opener, either, making Williams almost certain to make the team. He played well Thursday.
Tanner McEvoy was on his way to making the team as a wide receiver who can also play tight end. But the big, undrafted rookie from Wisconsin missed two of the three practices this week then Thursday’s exhibition finale at Oakland with a strained groin. McEvoy may be heading for injured reserve so Seattle can keep him.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, Douglas McNeill.
Douglas McNeil wins the No.-5 wide receiver spot and special-teams role almost by default. It would have been Kasen Williams’ again, but he’s not ready to play because of a hamstring strain that hasn’t gotten better.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Bradley Sowell, Mark Glowinski, Justin Britt, Germain Ifedi, Garry Gilliam, Terry Poole, Joey Hunt, Rees Odhiambo, Will Pericak.
The first five are the new starters, from left tackle across to right tackle, respectively. Gilliam is the only one returning in his same spot from last season. J’Marcus Webb played and hurt his way off the roster; he was slow and a liability in pass protection on his recently sprained knee Thursday night. Yes, that would mean the Seahawks swallowing Webb’s $2.75 million guaranteed and having only the improved Poole as the backup tackle with Odhiambo a potential backup left tackle. Evans, the 10-year veteran, stays because he’s cheap and a mentor for this young line.
"I’m not going to quit football if I’m not starting," Evans, the four-time All-Pro with New Orleans. He can earn a $1 million being that locker-room and meeting-room presence this line needs.
RUNNING BACKS: Thomas Rawls, Christine Michael, C.J. Prosise, Will Tukuafu, Alex Collins, Troymaine Pope.
Rawls made it back to a game Thursday for the first time since he broke his ankle in December. The replacement for retired Marshawn Lynch as Seattle’s lead runner is ready for the opener.
"It's an incredible comeback," Carroll said.
"I had no doubt in my mind I’d be back to this point," Rawls said.
Christine Michael’s previously endangered status is long gone; the Seahawks trust him as Rawls’ primary backup. Pope had another great late game at Oakland, with a 60-yard kickoff return and a 5-yard touchdown run. Carroll stays to his word that game performance, even in August, matters most running the ball late in preseason games.
"He’s been a really exciting player. He’s done some really nice things," Carroll said. "What you see, the big kickoff return, field position is great. He’s been an interesting player."
Interesting, because the Seahawks may feel because Pope entered the month so far off the league’s radar they could get him through waivers this weekend and onto their practice squad to keep. If so, rookie fifth-round pick Alex Collins stays as the fifth and final back. He has struggled in what NFL backs must do: pick up blitzes and pass block. But he makes the initial roster out of Seattle’s fear it would lose the former three-time 1,000-yard back at Arkansas to another team on waivers.
Good thing the Seahawks signed back Will Tukuafu this month. Who knows what they would have done at fullback?
QUARTERBACKS: Russell Wilson, Trevone Boykin
Seems like Wilson will make the team again, eh?
Boykin is a vexing issue. He struggled again Thursday in the basics of quarterbacking: calling the plays correctly and getting teammates in the right places. He’s dynamic at times with his Wilson-esque scrambling and improvisational throwing. But can Carroll trust the undrafted rookie to win regular-season games if need be? Seattle will intensely consider cut veterans QBs to sign this weekend.
"He had some problems (Thursday)," Carroll said, in a noticeable departure from his usual, it’s-all-sunny demeanor. "He had some trouble with some stuff. This was kind of ‘Wild Boys’ out there. I'm not quite sure where it all came from. We had some trouble administering a good game force. We had trouble finding continuity around the football.
"He's not as sharp as he has been."
Asked Thursday night if Boykin is indeed his No. 2 QB to begin the season, the coach said, curiously: "We’ll find out."
Then again, the Seahawks may write this off as a moot point. Again. Wilson has yet to miss a practice, let alone a game, in four seasons (as they knock on wood).
DEFENSIVE LINE: Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Ahtyba Rubin, Jordan Hill, Tony McDaniel, Frank Clark, Jarran Reed, Quinton Jefferson, Ryan Robinson.
Carroll sounded exasperated late Thursday in Oakland while mentioning, unsolicited, Hill "might have tweaked his hamstring again." That’s after a month in which the fourth-year veteran lost his first-team spot to injury and Reed, then gained it back when Reed got a toe injury. Assuming they don’t give up on Hill after years of injuries, the Seahawks have McDaniel to also push for an unexpected starting role. McDaniel’s been excellent in the three weeks since coming off kayaking down the Wenatchee River this month straight onto the defensive front.
If they decide to give up on Hill, 2015 free agent Justin Hamilton or undrafted Brandin Bryant have a chance to make it.
LINEBACKERS: Mike Morgan, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Brock Coyle, Eric Pinkins, Cassius Marsh.
Kevin Pierre-Louis, the fourth-round pick from 2014, has become almost invisible on this defense. Yes, he’s on special teams. But the team may keep only one outside linebacker as a reserve to begin this season: Pinkins, who starred Thursday. Marsh will swing between strong-side linebacker with Morgan replacing departed Bruce Irvin, and at end in nickel packages.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Richard Sherman, Jeremy Lane, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, DeShawn Shead, Kelcie McCray, Tyvis Powell, Steven Terrell, Marcus Burley.
Shead will be the right cornerback when Lane moves inside to nickel back in five-DB sets, which Seattle was in the majority of many games last season.
Powell burst into the Seahawks’ plans after an impressive first preseason game at Kansas City. Now he is getting what Carroll has termed the Shead treatment, playing safety and cornerback often on the same drives. That versatility and Powell’s hustle on special teams — plus the time Powell said Sherman and Thomas have been taking with him to learn the step-kick coverage technique and reading offensive formations, respectively — indicate the undrafted rookie from Ohio State is going to make the team. Powell is one reason Brandon Browner got cut Monday. Terrell gets the last spot here over Tharold Simon. The Seahawks seem out of patience with his injuries and, when he can stay on the field, constant penalties. Terrell is a valued member of special teams.
SPECIALISTS: Steven Hauschka, Jon Ryan, a new long snapper not named Nolan Frese.
Frese has become a coaches’ and punter Ryan’s favorite for how he covers punts and makes tackles. His punt snaps have been fine, but his snaps for Hauschka’s placekicks have often made holder Ryan look like a Cirque du Soleil gymnast contorting for the ball. Expect a new, free-agent long-snapper to arrive.