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Originally published August 12, 2011 at 8:16 PM | Page modified August 12, 2011 at 8:55 PM

Danny O'Neil

Okung's lack of durability could be an issue

Before the Seahawks resume practicing Saturday, let's put a microscope on Thursday's exhibition game in San Diego.

Seattle Times NFL reporter

quotes Okung is Seatles Greg Oden -- excessive injuries = bust! Read more
quotes Was hoping Okung would be the next Walter Jones. Instead I think we got the next Andre... Read more
quotes The guy had at least one whole roll of tape on each ankle which is basically putting... Read more

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NFL exhibition games are often called meaningless, which isn't quite true.

While the final score might not mean anything once the season starts in September, there are plenty of things that can be learned from the NFL's version of an intramural scrimmage depending on where you look.

Before the Seahawks resume practicing Saturday, let's put a microscope on Thursday's exhibition game in San Diego.

Three things we learned

Questions about Russell Okung's durability won't go away. Last year may have been nothing more complicated than misfortune when he suffered injuries to different ankles two months apart. Each injury was described as a high ankle sprain, which involves the ligament holding the two lower bones of the leg together. He never missed time in college and didn't have a chronic condition in the joints. But Okung's status again is a question after he injured his left ankle on the first series of this second season. While there was no update Friday on his status, the fact the injury occurred in what coach Pete Carroll characterized as a non-contact play causes concern over whether Okung will stay healthy enough to be the cornerstone the team expects at left tackle.

There might not just be a slot for Doug Baldwin, an undrafted rookie out of Stanford. It could be the slot as in the slot receiver. He showed precision on his routes and an ability to get open that could earn him a role. He caught four passes, most of any Seahawk in San Diego.

Kickoffs are a concern. That statement holds true for Seattle's coverage as well as returns. Seattle's special teams were the biggest strength of the team last year. The NFL changed its rules this year, moving kickoffs up 5 yards. That means more touchbacks, muting Seattle's return ability. The Chargers' first two kickoffs Thursday went for touchbacks. Not only that, but Seattle's second-half kick coverage was disappointing, most pointedly when Bryan Walters of Juanita High School in Kirkland returned a kick 103 yards for a touchdown. Seattle must adjust to the loss of core special-teams contributors like kicker Olindo Mare and linebacker Will Herring.

Three things we already knew

Seattle's offensive line is rugged in the run, but there's a risk of being ragged in pass protection. The Seahawks were determined to improve their ground game, the results evident as they added three starting offensive linemen, each of whom weighs 319 pounds or more. Seattle's run game was rough and ready, finishing with 133 yards in San Diego. However, the Seahawks allowed two sacks in the first quarter. With rookies James Carpenter and John Moffitt on the right side, playing next to center Max Unger with only 17 career starts, Seattle has some work to do to develop the continuity that is the hallmark of good pass protection.

Kelly Jennings is prone to getting picked on. That is as true for public perception as it is for opposing offenses. Jennings started at right cornerback Thursday and wound up matched up against Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson on the Chargers' first possession. The result: a 48-yard completion. It wasn't necessarily pure man-to-man coverage as Jennings appeared to have other responsibilities on the play. But all across Seattle, fans felt like this was the most frustrating kind of re-run, watching Jennings overmatched against a big-bodied wide receiver.

Tarvaris Jackson's athleticism is an attribute, not an exaggeration. The man can move. He made that evident in the way he evaded San Diego's pass rush and had a pair of nice scrambles. Matt Hasselbeck was more mobile than people gave him credit for, but Jackson is different. He's a threat to run, and he's going to keep plays alive with his feet.

Three things we're trying to figure out

How much of Seattle's first-quarter passing struggles was due to receiver absences? Seattle was missing four of its top five receivers Thursday: Sidney Rice (shoulder), Mike Williams (toe), Ben Obomanu (shoulder) and Kris Durham (hamstring). Having open targets would have helped keep the Chargers' pass rush from getting home.

Why did Charlie Whitehurst look so much better in the third quarter than the second? He led a pair of scoring drives in the third quarter, as an offense that didn't look downfield much at all in the first half started to move consistently. Whitehurst's most impressive pass didn't result in a completion. He stood tall in the pocket with a linebacker bearing down, and delivered a strike down the seam of the defense just before he was clobbered. That kind of courage is essential for a quarterback.

How will things shake out in Seattle's secondary? Marcus Trufant is at left cornerback while Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are the starting safeties. After that, things get murky. Second-year cornerback Walter Thurmond figures to get a long look at right cornerback once he returns from a sprained left ankle, but Jennings started Thursday. Safety Josh Pinkard served as Seattle's nickelback with the first-unit defense. Brandon Browner's length makes him an intriguing candidate at cornerback, and then there are rookies Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Jeron Johnson and Mark Legree all vying for roles. Seattle's plan was to stockpile young talent in the secondary and see who emerges. If Thursday was any indication, the results will be very interesting.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com




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