Injuries—and not just K.J. Wright’s arthroscopic knee surgery that came out of nowhere—are having a complicating effect on the roster decisions the Seahawks must make by this weekend.
The first practice since Friday’s preseason game at Minnesota added a new round of pains and issues to the need to cut the 90-man roster to the regular-season limit of 53 by Saturday at 1 p.m.
Tedric Thompson got a neck nerve stinger in addition to a hit to the ribs while playing against the Vikings, coach Pete Carroll said. The 2017 draft choice has been the starting free safety this month with Earl Thomas’ holdout entering its fifth week.
Thompson missed practice Monday. His coach said he is “day to day.”
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“His mentality is right,” Carroll said, “and he wants to play right now.”
With Thompson out, Bradley McDougald returned from a pectoral injury to practice, but at free safety instead of the strong safety he’s played most of this month. Delano Hill and Maurice Alexander worked at strong safety. That’s likely to be how it goes Thursday in the preseason finale against Oakland at CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks are trying to see how Alexander, a former starting strong safety with the Rams, would fit in that role replacing the retired Kam Chancellor. If Alexander doesn’t prove himself, he has a minimum contract for 2018 that would be easy to cut. That, in turn, could determine how many safeties Seattle keeps on its first 53-man roster of the season—all while the team considers the likelihood Thomas will return at some point after he begins missing his weekly $500,000 game checks in the regular season.
Same holds true at right cornerback. Byron Maxwell missed another practice with the hip-flexor injury he’s had most of August, and Carroll said he didn’t know when the veteran cornerback will get back on the field. He hasn’t played in any of the three preseason games.
The Seahawks are testing former San Francisco starter Dontae Johnson as the starting right cornerback, to see if he can be the bridge starter until the future at that spot, rookie draft choice Tre Flowers, is ready to play. If the Seahawks thought Flowers was ready now they’d have kept him as the starter he was for the first two preseason games. But Johnson started last week at Minnesota.
Maxwell’s minimum contract for one year would also be easy to shed, and the 30-year-old remains a candidate to be released this week at savings of $1.3 million against the salary cap. The team could then bring back Maxwell after week one, when Seattle would not have to guarantee all of his $950,000 salary for this season and would pay him only for each week he is on the roster.
Frank Clark, the team’s lone proven pass rusher returning from last season’s defense, missed practice with a new injury, a hyperextended elbow. That was after wrist surgery in June and a 2017 season which Clark has said he played while with two broken hands.
Dion Jordan, expected to start at the end spot opposite Clark, is in what Carroll described as a “race to get back” to practicing next week. He is on the physically-unable-to-perform list from the start of training camp because of a stress fracture in his leg. Being on the PUP list to start camp gives the Seahawks the option of putting him on that Saturday to begin the regular season. Doing so would require him to miss the first six weeks.
If he can get back to practicing next week, he could be on the 53-man roster to start the season. He’s played in just five games his last three years in the NFL.
“Dion Jordan is making progress. He’s making progress right now and he’s trying to make a bid for getting back here next week,” Carroll said. “As we said a long time ago, it would be a race to that last week and that’s kind of where it is right now. He’s doing a good job. He’s really champing at the bit to get back on the field and we’ll just have to see how it goes.”
The Seahawks have the same, glaring need they had to begin training camp last month: for quality pass rushers. That’s why they signed Erik Walden 10 days ago. The double-digit sack man for Indianapolis two years ago had two sacks against the Vikings last week, days after his 33rd birthday. Then Monday he missed practice with an undisclosed issue.
If Walden is out for any length of time, it could cost him a roster spot—and keeps Seattle in the market for signing or trading for an available pass rusher that becomes available this week. Even if Walden returns to the field this week, the Seahawks are likely still going to be in that market for another pass rusher. Or three.
At tight end Ed Dickson still hasn’t practiced let alone played this preseason because of groin and quadriceps issues. Who knows when the free agent Seattle signed to a three-year deal to replace Jimmy Graham will actually play as the team’s lead tight end?
Rookie running back Rashaad Penny was wearing his helmet and shoulder pads for practice Monday for the first time since his surgery to repair a broken left index finger on Aug. 15. Asked if his first-round draft choice from April has a chance to play Thursday against the Raiders, Carroll said, coyly: “Yes, he does have a chance to play Thursday.”
But he doesn’t need to. Carroll has said he’s seen enough from Penny that the rookie will be in the middle of Seattle’s plans for the opener at Denver in 13 days.
He said he hasn’t seen enough from everyone on the roster to have made decisions on the final roster spots yet. This gives meaning to Thursday’s final exhibition game, for those fighting for jobs and places on the team, that is.
“No, we don’t have decisions made. We don’t have to do that yet. We’re going to wait,” Carroll said of Saturday’s deadline. “Coming out of Minnesota (where he used to coach), Bud Grant used to say, ‘You don’t make decisions until you have to.’ We’re not going to force it. There’s no reason to make stuff up right now. We’ll just wait it out (and) give these guys every chance.
“I mean, that’s part of our mentality, is to continue to see these guys making it and coming through and doing it. Our coaches are developmental coaches for that reason – to hold that thought throughout and not ever cancel a guy’s opportunity out and so we’re trying to do that as best we can.”