The Seahawks are about to play their first game without Bobby Wagner or K.J. Wright since 2011, but — other than Wagner — what are the Seahawks really going to miss Monday in Chicago that they weren’t already missing?
In their 27-24 loss in Denver, they were without Wright (knee) and deactivated Nazair Jones and Poona Ford — and the Broncos rolled up 470 yards. That was with Wagner, Tre Flowers, Delano Hill and Tom Johnson on the field.
How much worse can it be without them?
Of course Wagner is a big loss — even though he had just five tackles in Denver as the Seahawks gave up 146 rushing yards. But the rest?
Flowers, Seattle’s third starting option at right corner, showed promise but also had the expected struggles for a rookie who just converted from safety. Neiko Thorpe and Akeem King won’t do any worse in Chicago.
Cutting Johnson was a very odd move, but he didn’t play special teams and the Hawks needed to replace 44 special-teams snaps from Week 1. They obviously have no linebackers to spare, and defensive line is their strongest unit, so Johnson was the choice as they brought up from the practice squad Shalom Luani, who figures to pick up Hill’s snaps (23 in Denver).
Despite optimistic reporting about a possible return, Pete Carroll made it sound like Johnson will not be back: “We had to figure out which is the best way for us over the long haul of this thing. Tom did a great job for us. We love him. We hated to have to separate like that. He’s a good ballplayer.”
The fact that the Hawks cut Johnson over the UDFA Ford indicates the coaches (1) don’t think Johnson will offer the inside rush they had hoped and (2) prefer Ford’s run-stopping ability and long-term prospects. (Releasing Johnson also could be a step back into the comp pick mix next year.)
Ford and Jones figure to step into the rotation in Chicago, giving Seattle a better anchor against the run. They’ll need it for their mishmash of linebackers.
Mychal Kendricks will join that crew and play, likely rotating with Shaquem Griffin while Austin Calitro starts in the middle for Wagner.
“He really has a chance to pick it up really quickly and get in there and help us,” Carroll said of the six-year veteran he has liked since the 2012 draft and thinks deserves a second chance as he awaits sentencing for insider trading. “He had three really good days and studied like crazy with the coaches, and he’s ready to help us out.”
Kendricks said: “(I’m) as ready as I can be, with the two days (to prepare). It’s football. It’s a game I’ve played since I was a little boy, and there’s a lot I’ve learned in my seven years as a pro. So I’m going to take that knowledge and use it …”
Kendricks said he has heard nothing about a suspension from the NFL yet, and Carroll said the Hawks talked to the league “extensively” and “we have to respect the process right now and just wait it out.”
Meanwhile, Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. have a tall task of getting Kendricks, Griffin, Calitro and Barky Mingo to play cohesively in Chicago.
As Carroll said, “(Wagner and Wright) have been with us a long time, and they make a lot of great decisions, and they’re in the right spots, and they fit really well. It’s the discipline of the scheme. We’re a fairly simple system … and we expect these guys to play right play after play for whole ballgames. That’s the challenge: For the guys to just be disciplined enough to be on the demands of the fits and the things they have to do in the running game and all that. There’s a lot of stuff. … So that’s the concern.”
Chicago ran for 139 yards, averaging 5.1 per rush, against Green Bay. The Hawks will need a much better effort by their D-line, protecting the new linebackers, or Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will run all over and around them.
The Hawks also have issues against the pass, but there is at least a little good news: Earl Thomas and Dion Jordan are in their second weeks of their personal preseasons and should be able to play more; Jones will be active and is underrated against the pass; Shaquill Griffin’s injury scare was not a big deal; and Bradley McDougald (knee) came off the injury report by the end of the week.
Sure, that’s not a lot to hang their hats on, but this unit is not going to be any worse than it was in Denver. So, if Russell Wilson can get started fast and guide the Hawks to 30 points, Seattle still should be able to sneak out of Chicago with a win Monday.
And then Wagner, Wright and the others should be back for the home opener against Dallas in Week 3.