“Continuity” is Seahawks’ buzzword for third exhibition Friday against Chicago


The Seahawks want three to really be the magic number.

In a perfect Seahawks world, this third exhibition game Friday night against the Chicago Bears at CenturyLink Field would suffice. It would be the last time the starters need to be on the field subject to getting hit and tackled for any substantial time until the real games begin on Sept. 4 against Green Bay.

Ah, of course this world isn’t perfect — not even for the defending Super Bowl champions.

Seattle’s starting offensive line hasn’t played as a complete unit since winning it all in February. Left tackle Russell Okung, who had offseason surgery on his toe and foot, has missed the first two exhibition games. He practiced fully the last two weeks and seems ready to start against the Bears.

Yet the tinkering with perhaps the most important position group for this Seahawks season continues. This week in practice coach Pete Carroll and offensive line coach Tom Cable tried veteran Eric Winston, signed weeks ago, at left tackle with the first-team line to see if he might be a viable option to back up Okung if need be. Alvin Bailey, who started the exhibitions at Denver and against San Diego for Okung, practiced extensively at right tackle behind rookie starter Justin Britt.

Britt seems to have all but secured the starting job protecting quarterback Russell Wilson’s front-side flank. It’s a job many thought Winston would have by now, once the Seahawks signed the ninth-year free agent at the start of training camp.

“He’s been really solid. He’s making great strides to being a legitimate starter,” Carroll said Thursday of Britt, the 6-foot-6, 325-pound second-round draft pick from Missouri. “It’s all in his makeup that really kind of substantiates that he’s able to do this and handle this.”

Cable has been impressed with how quickly Britt is learning nuances of being an interior blocker, with all the calls and recognition of defensive fronts. To hear Cable tell it, Britt has rarely made the same mistake twice.

Last week Cable said he wanted the starting line to have begun gaining continuity already. It still hasn’t, and may not until through the exhibition finale Aug. 28 at Oakland.

And this week center Max Unger, who missed the exhibition at Denver Aug. 7 with a groin injury, said of continuity up front: “There’s always urgency for that. It’s always a work in progress. We’ve got five guys out there trying to get on the same page. No other position groups have that many guys on the field at one time that have to get right all at the same time.

“Throughout the year, it’s a work in progress. And we are doing it right now.”

Asked Thursday if the Seahawks might play his finally-back-to-full-health starting line extensively in Oakland as well as Friday against Chicago to try to achieve that continuity, Carroll grinned and replied, “Might we? We might. We will find out.”

“It is really important,” Carroll said of establishing consistency along the O-line in the next two weeks. “It has been obvious on the practice field, just the language that they share, the communications, the sense for one another. It makes a big difference in this position, more than any other position in the game.”

The line will likely be blocking on at least a couple runs by Marshawn Lynch Friday. Carroll declared it “time for him to get some carries.” Those would be his first rushes since the Super Bowl. He was in the backfield for only the first two plays last week against San Diego, his only tangible contribution a fake by Russell Wilson on a play-action pass.

Wilson said he thinks the starters might play up until the fourth quarter Friday in what usually is a final “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. The fourth exhibition game typically has starters making only early cameo appearances, with the final three-plus quarters devoted to those making 11th-hour attempts to make the team.

“I believe that Coach is going to want us to play though the half and probably through the third quarter, I’d assume,” Wilson said. “I’m excited of getting out there and playing the first half and hopefully a little bit more and seeing how we do.”

The Seahawks have other issues to settle, optimally by soon after Friday’s game:

• Determining who will return punts. Earl Thomas will be back deep first again. But it wouldn’t ruin Seattle’s summer if someone other than its indispensable, All-Pro safety emerges as the primary target of frothing-at-the-mouth, freely sprinting opponents in the open field during punt plays.

It won’t be Bryan Walters, at least not against Chicago. The fifth-year veteran was effective and “absolutely” fearless, in Carroll’s estimation, while returning a San Diego punt 22 yards up the middle with little blocking. But that daring came at a cost; Walters has been out since that game with bruised ribs, losing valuable time in a bid for the job.

• Choosing a situational pass-rush specialist between O’Brien Schofield and Benson Mayowa. Schofield has been flying around all summer and was mostly unblockable against the Chargers’ offensive line last week with a sack, two tackles for losses and four hits on the quarterback. Mayowa needs to answer to stay in the competition.

• Incorporating all the now-healthy starters back into the defense. Safety Kam Chancellor “is ready to play some football,” in Carroll’s words — he hasn’t played in a game since the Super Bowl following spring hip surgery. Safety Jeron Johnson, the fourth-year pro from Boise State, has impressed the entire team while playing for Chancellor.

Linebacker Malcolm Smith returned Tuesday to full work in his increasingly characteristic play-making fashion. He had ankle surgery in late April. It’s unlikely the Super Bowl most valuable player will see action against Chicago only two full days back from that. Starting middle linebacker Bobby Wagner may return to practice next week from his hamstring injury. And Carroll said pass-rush linebacker Bruce Irvin might still be two weeks away from getting back from his hip surgery this spring. So there is still continuity to achieve at linebacker, too.

“We just want guys to play. We want them out there and have to get them more play time, just to get adapted to the new season again.” Carroll said. “As we stage it, this is the game they will play the most. And so, other than that, its consistency.

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