Finally, mercifully, happily, luckily, at long last, the NFL is back.
Remember the NFL Lockout? Yeah, that's over. Guess what? We get real live NFL football this week. The Seahawks kick off the NFL Preseason with a matchup against the San Diego Chargers on Thursday at Qualcomm Stadium (August 11, 5 PM). Though most casual fans scoff at the idea of the preseason in general and may not get too excited to watch mostly second- and third-string players duke it out in sloppy, ugly, disorganized football, I ...AM....STOKED.
I had the chance to attend Seahawks Training Camp last week on several days and got to see a lot of the Seahawks' young players in action. The preseason is the time of year that rookies and depth guys can showcase their talents to win a roster spot or even regular season playing time.
This week, you probably won't see many snaps from the first team guys. Teams will not rush to get their marquee players in after the lockout-shortened training camp and risk serious injury. More likely, you'll get to see about 3.95 Quarters of backups and rookies, and there are a few guys that I'm going to be interested to see.
Before we talk specific players, there are a few key things to watch. First, playcalling. Run heavy? Pass heavy? A lot of screens and bubble passes? These are the types of things to watch -- preseason games don't necessarily tip the hand of the team's offensive strategy for the regular season (strateeeegery), but at worst can give you an idea of the types of formations you can expect to see. A lot of two tight end sets? Empty backfield? Three wide receiver sets? Four?
Similar case on defense. What types of formations and schemes are we running? Are the Hawks blitzing often? Are we seeing a standard 4-3 front of more of the hybrid 4-3 Under that we ran last season? Where are the safeties lined up? What about the linebackers? What are the gap assignments? Are the corners playing press or off-man? Zone? Is the bandit package of 5+ DBs being utilized?
These are the types of things that are fun to watch after a seemingly endless desert of non-football boringness..tude during the lockout.
As for players, there are a couple of positional groups that I'll be very interested in. First, the wide receivers. The Hawks are likely to keep five or six receivers. Of those, I'd say that Mike Williams, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Kris Durham, and Ben Obomanu are locks ('locks' might be strong - 'likely' is probably more accurate) to make the team. That leaves MAYBE one spot left for players like Isaiah Stanback, Ricardo Lockette, Patrick Williams, Cris Carter, Dominique Edison, and camp sweetheart Doug Baldwin to fight for.
The receiver group is deep and talented and the final five or six there will be the cream of the crop. Who makes the cut will be very interesting.
The other group I'm looking forward to watching are the cornerbacks. Like the receivers, the Hawks will likely keep five, MAYBE six corners and there is a fairly deep pool to choose from. Marcus Trufant, Walter Thurmond, Kelly Jennings, Richard Sherman, and Brandon Browner are likely candidates, but will face tough competition from Josh Pinkard, Byron Maxwell, Marcus Brown, Kennard Cox, Jesse Hoffman, and Ron Parker.
Watch for players making plays -- interceptions are an obvious gauge of ability, but also look for the ability to jam at the line, something that's important in this defense. The ability to track the ball in flight. The ability to swing the hips and run in coverage with the receiver. Batting down balls and making tackles. I'm looking forward to watching this.
I'm also looking forward to seeing how the defensive tackle depth plays. Also, the offensive line. Also, the running backs. Also, the quarterbacks. Oh, and safeties and linebackers. Also, the tight ends. The defensive end play will be fun to watch. The special teams and field goal kickers. The Sea Gals. These are also things I'm looking forward to.
Thursday is the day folks. Be ready.