If you like omens, here’s one to hearten Seahawks fans — the last time Seattle opened the preseason against the Chargers on the road the Seahawks went on to win the Super Bowl.
Of course, the Chargers were in San Diego in 2013. This year’s preseason opener, which kicks off Sunday at 5 p.m., will instead be at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., the Chargers’ home for the next three years until they move into a new stadium in Inglewood.
While the game will mark the beginning of a new era for the Chargers it will also mark a shifting in the player evaluation for the Seahawks coaches and general manager John Schneider, who by the end of the month will have to pare the 90-man training camp roster down to the regular season limit of 53.
Coach Pete Carroll said this week he expects that job to be harder this year than it has been the last few seasons thanks to a roster that he thinks is better from top to bottom than the last few seasons.
“John and I have been looking at it for a long time as we’re coming into camp and thinking we have a chance to have one of the best we’ve had indicated by the competition of the spots,” Carroll said. “You can see it. There’s a number of guys that have playability that we’re going to have to sort out. There’s competitive opportunities for guys to make space for themselves, too, and all that adds to making us better and so we’re really fired up about that.”
While there are any number of players who will be intriguing to watch, here are some I’ll be keeping a particularly close eye on:
Shaquill Griffin, CB
The third-round pick has been a camp standout the past week as he has filled in as the starting right cornerback with veteran Jeremy Lane out with an injury. And with Lane still out against the Chargers, Griffin will get the start. Carroll had portrayed Lane as the leader for that job prior to his injury. But if Griffin can translate his play into practice onto the field the team could have a tough decision on its hands. It’s worth remembering that Lane at the least will be the starting nickelback, so in a way the decision is mostly about who gets the 30 percent additional snaps or so at cornerback when the Seahawks are in their base defense — Lane, Griffin and Richard Sherman are clearly the team’s top three cornerbacks right now. But if Griffin were to win the starting job in the base defense it would also stand as something of a changing of the guard and also could mean some tough decisions down the road about what to do with Lane and fellow veteran DeShawn Shead, who held the spot last season. San Diego starting QB Philip Rivers is expected to play just one series. But expect him to test Griffin a time or two when he is on the field.
Chris Carson, RB
The seventh-round pick has been another camp standout. But the game may change as much for rookie running backs once the preseasons start as it does for any position — the Seahawks have done no to-the-ground tackling in camp so this game will stand as the most significant test yet of the physicality that Seattle coaches say they have seen in Carson. Carson may be battling Alex Collins for a final spot on the roster at tailback depending on how many the team decides to keep.
George Fant and Germain Ifedi, OT
The Seahawks seem ready to hand their starting tackle jobs to the two second-year players, especially Fant, who has drawn raves throughout the preseason. Carroll, meanwhile, said Ifedi had his two best days of practice this week and the team undoubtedly will give him every chance to hold off Ethan Pocic for the right tackle job if for no other reason than his status as a first-round pick in 2016. Each will get a stern test Sunday as long as San Diego’s number one defense is on the field as the Chargers boast what they boast may be the best pass-rushing duo in the NFL in ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The Seahawks wouldn’t likely change their minds based on one game. But they’d love to see Fant and Ifedi at least hold their own, which would make the Seahawks that much more comfortable to begin solidifying roles up front.
Trevone Boykin, QB
Boykin went a long way toward securing the backup QB job in the preseason opener last year when he led a last-minute game-winning drive to beat the Chiefs in Kansas City, completing 16-26 passes for 188 yards. Boykin now has to fend off veteran Austin Davis to keep the job with Carroll this week indicating that at the moment it’s a dead heat. Expect Boykin to follow starter Russell Wilson which would mean playing with the second unit offense but also going against what would likely be a better Chargers’ defense. Boykin has been inconsistent in camp but had some of his better practices this week and the team will want to see that trend continue.
J.D. McKissic, Kasen Williams, Tanner McEvoy and Kenny Lawler, WR
The Seahawks appear to have five pretty sure things at receiver — Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson and Amara Darboh, the latter seeming likely to have a spot on the roster due to his status as a third-round pick in 2017. That could leave the rest of the receivers on the roster fighting for what might only be one more spot. McKissic has been a standout of late and also is being tried as a returner, which could make him especially valuable as long as Lockett continues to be eased back to action (Lockett won’t play against the Chargers). Lawler could also get a few tries as a returner Sunday. Williams had one of his best days of practice Friday while McEvoy has also flashed of late. “There’s a lot of guys that can make this happen,” Carroll said of the receivers. “We’re going to have to see how they’ll cash in on their opportunities.”