Entering the week of the first preseason game, Pete Carroll proclaimed that “… it really gets real in a hurry.”
Well, not really real. Kinda real, maybe.
Certainly it will qualify as a football-like experience.
From Carroll’s perspective as Seahawks coach, though, the importance of this preseason really is very real.
It might be the most important set of preseason games for the Seahawks since 2012 when they were deciding on a quarterback and Russell Wilson emerged as the starter and face/future of the entire franchise.
Wilson secured his starting role that summer in a game at Kansas City — site of the Hawks’ 2016 preseason opener Saturday afternoon.
It would be easy to view these Seahawks as a veteran team with key players in place at most positions. So these fake games shouldn’t be a big deal. Just try to make it through without getting anybody important hurt, right?
But here’s what these games are about now: The future.
Aside from exigent questions of the unsettled offensive line, new starters at a few positions and backups at several more, the key factor is collecting evidence of who will constitute the next wave of Seahawk elite.
Of the 10 draft picks and some promising undrafted free agents, half a dozen or more very well could become the core of the Seahawks in 2019 and beyond.
“It’s the first chance to really tackle and run and hit like we want to, and so that’s the stuff that we’ll see,” Carroll said of Saturday’s game.
As the NFL is set up now, training camps now feature only one practice a day and limited contact. Coaches can get a decent understanding of how receivers and secondary players can perform in non-contact situations.
But linemen? Very, very difficult.
And the Seahawks have five new starters across the offensive line. They look big and reasonably competent against blocking dummies, and going somewhat short of full speed against teammates.
Understanding the mechanics and technique of blocking is important, of course, and knowing the assignments is mandatory. But there’s no way to fully judge the kind of tenacity required to play those positions in any situation other than in game-action against opponents.
This team came into the 2015 season, having misjudged Drew Nowak’s ability to play center, relying on a line that hadn’t come anywhere near developing the coordinated effort needed to protect Wilson.
They started 2-4, and in the first half of the season, Wilson had only 10 touchdowns and six interceptions with 31 sacks. Once Nowak was replaced and the line jelled, Wilson’s numbers in the second half were 24 touchdowns, two interceptions and just 14 sacks.
Any numbers of factors contributed, but the line play was most likely the prime.
With every position on the offensive front involving a genuine competition, these Seahawks can’t afford to adhere to the old protocol of only playing the starters a few series in the early preseason games.
These guys have to prove themselves.
The rookies? Guard Germain Ifedi has been precociously salty in practices. Will he know the line between being nasty and illegal? Half of the other rookies are injured heading into this game, but will have three more weeks to make their presence known.
The Seahawks, though, don’t wait around. They have a knack for moving on and finding somebody else on the roster who is fit and able to fill an empty niche.
So we may keep eyes open for undrafted guys like defensive tackle Brandin Bryant, running back George Farmer and receiver Tanner McEvoy — intriguing prospects whose path to making the roster could be greased by others’ injuries.
The elevation of long shots to roster spots is so common on this team it’s almost expected.
Doug Baldwin, Brock Coyle, Jermaine Kearse, DeShawn Shead and others carved out careers with impressive preseason performances.
The Seahawks of 2016 once again will face the challenge of a loaded Cardinals club, and set off into a season that seems backloaded with tough games.
They can hardly afford to get off to the kind of start that they did in 2015, when their playoff schedule featured nothing but road trips.
Defensive coordinator Kris Richard on Wednesday said that the competition in camp has been fierce, which is a hallmark of the team. So, “it’s going to be good to let them loose.”
And that’s when they can start to really understand what they’ve got.