When the Seattle Seahawks kick off their 2011 preseason schedule with a visit to Qualcomm Stadium to take on the San Diego Chargers, they’ll be doing so with a new quarterback under center for the first time in a decade.
After entering every offseason since 2001 with Matt Hasselbeck as their primary field general, the Seahawks opted to go in another direction at the position and the established veteran signed a free-agent contract with Tennessee as a result. The favorite to fill Hasselbeck’s shoes will be former Viking Tarvaris Jackson, inked to a two-year deal by Seattle during the early portion of the signing period.
Jackson, who had spent his first five NFL seasons working with current Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in Minnesota, will start Thursday’s game before handing the reins over to ex-Charger Charlie Whitehurst, with undrafted rookie Josh Portis slated to finish out the contest.
Whitehurst, a third-round selection by San Diego in the 2006 draft, will be facing his former team for the first time since being traded by the Chargers to the Seahawks in March of 2010. The 29-year-old served as the Bolts’ No. 3 quarterback for his first four years in the league.
Jackson will begin the season at the controls of a new-look Seattle attack that added two big weapons via free agency. The Seahawks filled their void for a No. 1 receiver by signing the talented Sidney Rice, Jackson’s ex-teammate in Minnesota, to a five-year contract, and also landed former Raider Zach Miller to take over as the primary tight end.
Plenty of modifications have been made to the offensive line as well, with rookie draft picks James Carpenter (1st Round) and John Moffitt (3rd Round) set to make their debuts at right tackle and right guard, respectively, and the Seahawks also prying veteran Robert Gallery away from Oakland to slot in at left guard.
San Diego’s main offseason changes came on the defensive side as head coach Norv Turner’s club tries to bounce back from a disappointing 9-7 campaign in 2010. The Chargers brought in a pair of established veterans — oft-injured strong safety Bob Sanders and inside linebacker Takeo Spikes — to hold down starting roles, while a few rookies the team is high on will get their first chance to prove ready to contribute in Thursday’s opener.
Corey Liuget, the 18th overall choice in April’s draft, will begin a preseason competition with returnee Jacques Cesaire for a every-down job at defensive end, while second-round pick Jonas Mouton is currently in the running to start opposite Spikes at inside linebacker. Cornerback Marcus Gilchrist, another second-rounder, is a candidate to fill the void left by free-agent departure Darren Sproles as a return man.
With top running back Ryan Mathews ruled out for Thursday’s tilt due to a leg injury, rookie Jordan Todman (6th Round, Connecticut) could be in line for the majority of carries for San Diego.
Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ first-team offense figures to be on the field for a couple of series, and the unit will likely be without All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates, who’s expected to see only sporadic preseason action as he mends from a lingering foot injury that limited him to only 10 games a year ago.
Cornerback Antoine Cason, who broke a finger early on in training camp, also won’t play for San Diego.
These teams met in Seattle during Week 3 of last year’s regular season, with the Seahawks getting a pair of kickoff return touchdowns from Leon Washington en route to a 27-20 win. The Seahawks also prevailed in their most recent preseason bout with the Chargers, earning a 20-14 victory in San Diego in 2009 to take a 6-4 all-time lead in that series.