What will the Seahawks do with Kasen Williams and Kevin Smith?
The two former Washington Huskies wide receivers, undrafted entering the league this year and last, made final pushes toward the 53-man roster Thursday night in the preseason finale against Oakland -- especially the head-turning Williams.
He made a diving touchdown catch, with the ball stuck into the crook of one arm, on a pass from B.J. Daniels in the third quarter. He held onto the ball in tight coverage as he was hitting the turf.
"He continues to make big catches. We've seen it in practice as well,” coach Pete Carroll said. “There's no doubt that he can make plays.”
And Carroll usually rewards game production, even in faux games.
Williams always had been making those as a Parade magazine national high school player of the year at Skyline in the east Seattle suburb of Sammamish then many times at the start of his UW career. But in the middle of his junior season Williams broke his leg and sustained a foot displacement landing to the Husky Stadium turf trying to catch a pass in a game against California. The injuries effectively derailed his college career and left him undrafted this spring.
Cincinnati was interested in adding him as a free agent in May but then Bengals doctors feared the pin that’s still in Williams’ foot, so they failed him on a physical.
The Seahawks, whose doctors also work with those at UW Medical Center and understood Williams’ case better, signed him the following week. Since he arrived in late June following his class’ graduation -- he had to wait until then per NFL rules -- he has made the most of scant opportunities in practice and in games.
His four targets last night were twice as many as he had in any of the three previous preseason games. One of those targets was in the second quarter when No. 3 quarterback R.J. Archer -- and Carroll -- wanted him to continue a third-down route down the left sideline instead of breaking it off short. Archer’s pass sailed 20 yards past him incomplete.
Williams said the play that will haunt him was a post route in the fourth quarter. Daniels’ throw was high and a safety was arriving late, but Williams thinks he should have caught the ball instead of reaching up and having it go off his hands incomplete. Had he made that catch, Williams said he would have considered Thursday to be his best performance.
Carroll sounded happy with it, but not jump-up-and-down thrilled.
“To me it's really exciting because this is a kind when he was 16 or 17, you saw this stuff happen, and it didn't quite come together like he had hoped in his college career because he got banged up,” said Carroll, who tried to recruit Williams to USC. “I think that's the only reason. After a serious injury, he's come back and he's done a nice job.”
Special teams is the route by which Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse made the Seahawks years ago to eventually become the team’s top two wide receivers now. Williams and Smith know that is their route onto this team, too, and Smith has a big productive and comfort advantage there.
Smith, who came back from a torn knee ligament days before UW’s 2011 Alamo Bowl to spend time with Seattle as an undrafted rookie last season, cut right for a 28-yard punt return in the fourth quarter Thursday. Baldwin got into Smith’s facemask on the sideline for a celebratory roar, while Kearse comically got out of the way so as to not get hit by the enthusiasm.
Williams acknowledges he remains a work in progress on special teams. He’s been too big a star receiver at his previous levels to consistently play special teams, and Thursday night on two different kickoff coverages he ran alongside ball carriers instead of going for the tackle.
"He's finding his way. He's done some things for us,” Carroll said. “Our receivers are so active on special teams, our guys are as active as any group in the NFL. You have to be a special teams player as a receiver on our team, and so he's trying to find his niche."
It appears Smith, Williams and Daniels are vying for one, maybe two roster spots at wide receiver. Seattle kept seven of them to begin last season, six to start Carroll’s previous seasons as its coach.
Daniels seemed to have cemented his roster spot Thursday night. His sterling running sparked the offense as a fill-in QB Thursday night with No. 2 passer Tarvaris Jackson again resting his high-ankle sprain for the opener Sept. 13. So that leaves Smith likely against Williams for the final spot, with Smith having the edge in all-important special teams but Williams the bigger potential game-breaker at receiver down the field with his physicality.
I asked Carroll Thursday night of Daniels’ versatility might afford the Seahawks keeping an extra wide receiver than they might have.
“You surely have to consider everything with that,” Carroll said. “That was a fantastic showing tonight. Honestly, (quarterbacks coach) Carl Smith has been saying the whole time that B.J. would be able to do that for us if we put him in the game and let him play like that, and he was right.
“It was really clear that we've got a guy who's a threat for us, if we can keep him on the team.”
That seems like a small “if.”
How I see the wide receivers that will be on the final 53-man roster Seattle must set by 1 p.m. Saturday. The only way both Smith and Williams make the active roster will be if the Seahawks decide Matthews’ lack of preseason production in practice and games trumps his potential, his size and his Super Bowl breakout (his first four NFL catches, a 100-yard receiving day and a touchdown catch). I don’t think they will.
1. Doug Baldwin: a lock as the No. 1 WR
2. Jermaine Kearse: locked at No. 2
3. Tyler Lockett: absolute blur in preseason as the third receiver
4. Chris Matthews: not a sure thing. But Carroll sure is intrigued by his Super Bowl, and him being 6-5. If they keep 6 WRs, he could be cut
5. Ricardo Lockette: His speed and hitting as punt gunner smacking returners only reason he sticks again
6. B.J. Daniels: too athletic, too selfless for coaches to discard
7. Kevin Smith: Special-team contributions the deciding factor
(Paul Richardson: will begin season on PUP list following January knee surgery, exempt from the roster for at least six weeks)
Practice squad: Kasen Williams