I get it, the pre-season isn’t for everyone. For the casual fan, it just means we’re about a month away from real football. A good chunk will watch at least SOME of the pre-season games, but I’d be willing to bet the vast majority start checking out as soon as the regulars leave the game.
I happen to love the pre-season. I try to block out the evening so I can watch the entire game uninterrupted. Inevitably, I end up camping with my family during one of the pre-season games, but the last few years we’ve been DVR’ing it and watching it upon our return – avoiding our phones and any news on the radio until we’ve had a chance to get it in. If you’re a hardcore football fan, what’s not to like? You already get to watch 16 weeks with the regulars, plus playoff games. They’re stressful and intense and exciting.
But, the pre-season? It’s all relaxation! Like a nice little vacation. You can watch for the starters, to get a sense of how guys will mesh and work their ways into playing shape. But, I like it mostly for the other guys. The roster fringe. You get to start out with 90 guys at the beginning of camp, knowing full well that many of them won’t make it. But, there’s always a few who pop from out of nowhere. And, there are bona fide prospects getting ready to make the jump from back-end of the roster to potential future star. There are incoming free agents, draft picks, and guys returning from injuries. I want to see ’em all!
And here are the 12 I want to see the most. We’ll go in order starting with the one I’m most excited to see (jersey number in parentheses):
1. Tyler Lockett, Wide Receiver/Punt & Kick Returner (#16)
The Seahawks traded up in the third round to nab him, giving up quite the haul. Many believed it to be a reach, but I’ve been touting this guy since his final bowl game when he did a number on UCLA. The safe stance has been: well, at least the Seahawks finally have a quality return man; but, I think this kid has something special in him. I think he’s going to make a real and immediate impact for our offense the way Paul Richardson never did. Hell, the last rookie receiver to make an impact for this team was Doug Baldwin, so you can throw a bunch of names on that list of guys who never made an immediate impact (including Golden Tate, for the record). Per reports, Lockett has looked good in the early going, so not only am I looking forward to him getting a lot of play this pre-season, but I’m looking forward to him getting some play with the starters.
2. Cassius Marsh, Defensive End (#91)
He was a rookie last year, played in a few games, started to show some promise, and then he got injured and was lost for most of the year. Now, he’s back, and per reports looks like an immediate impact player. He figures to be a rotational guy behind Avril and Bennett, but I’ll be looking forward to seeing what he does for us in nickel situations, and in some base defense situations. If he could apply the impact we used to get with Chris Clemons, there’s that third pass-rushing defensive end we’ve been looking for!
3. Douglas McNeil, Wide Receiver (#19)
He’s 6’3, 200 pounds. Most fans have probably never heard his name before; truth be told, I’m just getting acquainted with what he has to offer. Watch the catch he makes at the 50-second mark, this kid could be the real deal. Yes, he’s an Arena Football League receiver, but his hands, his quicks, his athleticism, they’ll all play well in the NFL. Hopefully, he’s got some polish and is able to run a quality route, because he could be a nice little find for us.
4. Frank Clark, Defensive End (#55)
I don’t expect as much out of Clark as I do out of Marsh, so that’s why he’s ranked a little lower (even though he’s probably a higher-ceiling talent). It’s just tough for rookies to step into the league and dominate. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing what we got out of our controversial first draft pick this year. He’ll figure to get a lot of play in the second and third quarters – and even some special teams work – so we should certainly get our fill and he should certainly get his opportunities to make some sort of pre-season impact.
5. Jimmy Graham, Tight End (#88)
If this was a list of Guys I’m Looking Forward To Seeing This Regular Season, Graham would absolutely top the list. As it stands, this is the pre-season incarnation of that article, so he figures to not get all that much playing time. At least until the third game, when the starters usually play into the second half. Regardless, I’m pretty excited about that first drive of the first pre-season game next week, when I’m sure they’ll feature him extensively, followed by the fans in attendance going absolutely bitchcakes.
6. Bruce Irvin, Linebacker (#51)
Again, this is more of a guy I’m looking forward to seeing in the regular season – as I’m CONVINCED he’s going to give us one of the better Contract Seasons we’ve ever seen – but from reports I’ve read, he looks like he’s bulked up while still keeping the speed that made him such an enticing first rounder to begin with. Even though the pre-season games don’t really count, I’m still looking forward to Irvin making an immediate impact, to set the tone that this will be the best season we’ve ever seen out of a guy looking to get paid like a superstar.
7. Chris Matthews, Wide Receiver (#13)
It’s been pretty resounding in the early going this camp: the wide receiver battle is the one to watch. Baldwin and Kearse look pretty entrenched. Lockett obviously will have his spot on lock. Paul Richardson will most likely start on the PUP, opening up one spot. Kevin Norwood has the advantage of being a draft pick last year; Ricardo Lockette has the advantage of having played in the system for so long (plus, his talent for playing special teams). It’s very possible there will be a bunch of REALLY talented receivers all fighting for one final roster spot. Which is where Chris Matthews comes in. He’s the tallest receiver in camp, at 6’5, AND he had that miraculous Super Bowl performance that kept it from turning into a New England rout. A lot of people believe that Matthews has a spot waiting for him, so I’m looking forward to seeing if he goes out there this pre-season and earns it. Nothing will be handed to him, and we’ve got a lot of hungry cats on this team. Let’s see how he responds.
8. Brandon Mebane, Defensive Tackle (#92)
Normally, Mebane wouldn’t be anywhere near this list. After all, how excited can you be for a nose tackle in the pre-season? For the record, I don’t expect him to play a ton, but I do expect him to play, as he’s coming off of a bad injury – his first real heavy-duty injury that kept him out of multiple games – and he’s getting up there in age. On top of that, with the team releasing Tony McDaniel, we’re a little thin (so to speak) along the interior of our defensive line. So, I’m looking forward to Mebane looking like his usual self, if nothing else than to calm my fears (let’s face it, I’ve got enough to worry about with how thin we are in the secondary right now).
9. Ahtyba Rubin, Defensive Tackle (#77)
ANOTHER defensive tackle??? Well, yeah, but this guy’s new! He played for Cleveland last year, but now he’s ours, and he’s officially replacing Tony McDaniel as our starting 3-tech defensive tackle in our base defense. Beyond that, I’ve been hearing NOTHING but good things about him from our coaches in interviews, so I’m pretty stoked to see what he can do.
10. B.J. Daniels, Wide Receiver (#5)
You may remember B.J. Daniels as our third-string quarterback the last few years. Well, he has officially converted to wide receiver full time, and this is his first camp in that new role. I don’t think he has much of a shot to make the final 53-man roster, but he’s got amazing athleticism, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the transition takes. Hopefully he gets more play than just as our backup return man. I want to see him get some snaps on offense, even if it’s with the second or third strings.
Tie – 11 & 12. Kevin Smith & Kasen Williams, Wide Receiver (#17 & #18)
So, how exciting is the wide receiver battle this year? HALF of my Top 12 are receivers! Obviously, you can’t keep everyone, but these guys will give the coaching staff something to think about. Maybe enough of these fringe receivers show promise to allow the organization to cut someone like Jermaine Kearse to save some money. I’m not advocating for that (especially in this, my Washington Husky wide receiver section of the post), but I think we all know there’s a better than good chance Kearse is playing elsewhere in 2016; I don’t think the team will have the money to extend him long term. So, maybe these aren’t guys we’re looking at to make the team this year, but MAYBE – if they’re still around – we could be talking about these guys next year. Per reports, Kevin Smith has looked rock solid. I’m not hearing as much about Kasen Williams, but he’s out there battling and it would be nice to see good things out of someone coming back from such a devastating injury. Maybe one or both gets stashed on the practice squad. I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks.