Seahawks-Vikings preseason preview: 6 Hawks to focus on for the game

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The most recent matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings was the hard-to-watch-but-still-classic wild card game featuring none other than infamous kicker Blair Walsh, then a Viking, now a Seahawk. (“None other” is an interesting phrase because there were many others who were featured.) In the three meeting between those two teams in the Pete Carroll era before that, Seattle won 30-20, 41-20, and 38-7.

Those were all nice wins. If the Seahawks win on Friday night in Seattle, a preseason game with no real meaning to the final score, it’ll simply be. What really matters is that everyone on both sides comes out healthy, and for us fans, that we see what we want to see from certain players on the field. Here are six such players worth focusing on tonight:

Eddie Lacy

The fifth year running back is looking to secure additional reps as the number one once the regular season begins, and he’ll have that opportunity tonight with Thomas Rawls unlikely to play due to an ankle injury. Carroll says that Lacy should get plenty of work, and he’ll need it since last week was his first game action since Week 5 of last season.

Lacy had four carries for 10 yards against the LA Chargers in that game, which is not a fantastic start, but a start nonetheless.

The Vikings had a league-average defense by DVOA standards last season, but should provide the gelling Seattle offensive line with a true test in August. That’s a big reason why Carroll targets offensive weapons like Lacy, because with his high rate of broken and missed tackles, it’s about what he should be able to do despite lack of running lanes; that’s what forced Christine Michael out of favor and off of the roster … twice. (Three times if you consider that the Seahawks let him test free agency in 2016 without much concern.)

A good game by Lacy means that Seattle can rest a little easier about the fragility of Rawls. A poor game and the one-year deal they gave him isn’t looking so hot.

Germain Ifedi

Right now he’s the Blake Bortles of offensive linemen. Ifedi made too many mistakes against the Chargers over a short period of snaps (relatively) and if he gets burned again by the Vikings — a likelihood given the talent of Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, and Anthony Barr — the Seahawks may opt to start Ethan Pocic in preseason Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Maybe they should anyway.

If Ifedi does manage to protect Wilson against Minnesota’s fearsome pass rush though, then we can rest a little easier that the Hawks didn’t completely waste their first round pick in 2016. It’s getting harder and harder to believe that’s not true, so even one good preseason game could go a long way towards easing those concerns.

Amara Darboh

Assuming he’s able to make his debut on Friday, Darboh (sternum) is absolutely someone to keep an eye on, especially after Kasen Williams’ had his huge day on Sunday in Darboh’s absence. I do not believe for a second that Seattle would cut Darboh under any circumstance, but if he does nothing for the next couple of weeks that may make it even harder for the Seahawks to keep anything less than six receivers.

And that sixth spot could go to Williams. Or Cyril Grayson. Or David Moore. Or Kenny Lawler.

Right now we want to see what Darboh can do because only Paul Richardson (45th overall), Golden Tate (60th overall) and Tyler Lockett (69th overall) have been receivers drafted higher than Darboh (106th) in the Carroll era. How’s his relationship with Russell Wilson going to be? If he does great, could Seattle feel comfortable releasing Jermaine Kearse? Or will they need to keep an extra receiving threat? A lot could hinge on the health and performance of Darboh.

Right now, it seems like Doug Baldwin, Lockett, Richardson, Kearse, and Darboh could be kept, but Tanner McEvoy, Williams, Grayson, Moore, and Lawler are five more guys who demand to be recognized for their unique abilities too. Some tough cuts are coming.

Nazair Jones

With the offseason injury to Malik McDowell putting his 2017 season in jeopardy, Jones becomes Rookie-DT-Of-Note-Number-One. And his performance against the Chargers suggests that Seattle might have a star rookie defensive tackle this season either way.

Jones looked near-impossible to block against LAC, though we don’t really know if those offensive linemen are able to block anyone. The Vikings spent big on offensive line help in the offseason, but also proved (to me at least) why the Seahawks did the right thing by not spending big on big men just for the sake of spending big on big men. Minnesota added Riley Reiff to play left tackle at $58 million over five years, despite him not being a good left tackle for the Detroit Lions and losing that job there. They also gave Mike Remmers $30 million over five years to play right tackle, and I don’t think any Panthers fans were happy with the job he did in Carolina.

The interior of Nick Easton and Joe Berger at guard, and rookie Pat Elflein at center, also wouldn’t give me much satisfaction if I was a Vikings fan. There are plenty of opportunities then to attack and disrupt quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Case Keenum; with Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Frank Clark setting the edge, the hope is that someone on Seattle’s roster can become a consistent threat in the middle of the d-line. I don’t see it from Ahtyba Rubin. I don’t know that Jarran Reed can be anything other than a run-stopper. I’d like to see more play and better health from Quinton Jefferson. In the meantime though, we have Jones to cling onto for hope there.

He may have been the superior defensive tackle in the bunch the whole time, for all we know.

Michael Wilhoite

Mentioning Wilhoite here means I’m leaving out a lot of exciting, young players who could develop into stars. Shaquill Griffin, Delano Hill, Michael Tyson, Tedric Thompson, Chris Carson, Pocic, DeAndre Elliott, and so on … but while Wilhoite is 30 and not exciting, the Seahawks may end up turning to him and needing him to be steady and dependable.

With K.J. Wright apparently on the mend with a sore knee, who knows if the team will be without him for any amount of regular season action. That means that the WILL spot needs to be occupied with someone that’s able to handle the job, because we’ve seen Wright come up with huge plays over and over again from that spot. If there’s no Wright, a lot could end up going wrong for Seattle’s defense.

Wilhoite looks to be first up, but is also battling against Terence Garvin, Mike Morgan, Dewey McDonald, Otha Peters, Marcus Smith, Kache Palacio, D.J. Alexander, and the recently signed Ronald Butler. Really though, it might be Wilhoite, Garvin, or Morgan at WILL in Week 1 if it’s not Wright. Smith or McDonald could also be there. Or someone else. There’s just a lot of uncertainty, especially around Wright’s knee, so hopefully some of that gets cleared up with a dominant performance by literally any linebacker besides Bobby Wagner on Friday.

Blair Walsh

We never really talked about it, but Walsh went 2-of-2 on field goals and 6-of-6 on extra points against the Chargers. That’s way more exciting than it should be, but the Seahawks need someone to be able to make those kicks during the regular season and this time Walsh will be tested psychologically by facing his former team that cut him.

As long as he keeps making his extra points, is perfect inside of 40, mostly perfect from 41-49, and average beyond 50, Walsh will do just fine. If he begins to Visanthe Shank-o some kicks, then suddenly people are wondering if Seattle is back on the market for a kicker.

Let’s hope that doesn’t show up tonight or any other night during this season.

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