I won't be able to watch tonight's game (going huckleberry picking), but I just thought I'd rattle off a few important players and positions on the team that nobody seems to be talking about. The third preseason game is usually the most crucial and revealing, and this week Pete Carroll will be playing his starters into the third quarter.
The ability of DT Alan Branch to penetrate the line and pressure QB's is going to be key to this defense. So far, he's flashed as much effectiveness against the pass as Colin Cole - which is to say, none except for the occasional tipped pass. Branch is built much more like Red Bryant and could struggle on the inside for the same reasons Bryant did - too big, not enough leverage against squattier guards who know how to get under him.
Two weeks ago, Josh Pinkard was a goat for blowing a coverage and leaving Kelly Jennings 1-on-1 to defend Vincent Jackson. At that time, nobody foresaw a roster spot for him. Last week, he got in a spectacular forced fumble and is suddenly a real candidate for the 53.
In both cases, popular opinion of the injury-plagued USC defender has been decided largely by one big play. His real worth is decided by the fundamentals that he shows in the quiet downs. Someone should be watching him for his coverage decisions, his reactions, his awareness and his tackling.
Pinkard's competition, Mark Legree, has been virtually invisible the past month and recently did an interview containing all the usual quotes of a player about to be put on the practice squad. I wonder who Carroll will choose - an old USC alumni he's kept around for a year, or an actual draft pick.
Sophomore receiver Golden Tate was getting big training-camp accolades over his improving route running - right up until last week, when two big drops almost single-handedly killed Seattle's offense. His heir apparent? Doug Baldwin (got it right!), who has shown some undeniable polish as a slot receiver. He's been productive on the field, but not with the first-team offense. He needs snaps against starting defenses before we just crown him as Tate's replacement.
Pete Carroll has had a strong hand in Tate's development. Tate continued to get snaps after his first-half snafus against Minnesota, and wound up with one reception. It wouldn't surprise me to see Tate given more chances. He's supposed to be getting used as a short-play weapon of the very kind that can help a QB defeat pressure. If that happens, with Ben Obomanu returning to the field for the first time this season, Baldwin may not get as many reps as he'd like.
Unger was a terrible guard in 2009, spending far too much time getting blown into his own backfield. People have said that he'll fare better at his natural center position, but the knock against Unger has been his strength, and both guard and center involve strength showdowns against big, heavy men. How much different can center be? They benefit more from combo blocks against guards, but there will still be one-on-one matchups from time to time. Unger has to start winning more of them.
The 7th-round fan favorite looks more and more like a fusing of the negatives of Leon Washington (smallish, questionable durability) and Marshawn Lynch (not very fast, bit of a dancer). I maintain my opinion that he could become trade bait if he doesn't start showing. He sat out with neck stiffness against San Diego and was misused as a goal-line back against Minnesota. Hopefully he'll flash more with extended snaps against the Broncos.