RENTON – Don’t be surprised if Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck stays in harm’s way a little longer on Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings.
It’s the team’s third exhibition game and, for most NFL teams, it serves as a dress rehearsal for the season opener, with the first unit playing at least three quarters.
But Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll may be wise to make an exception to that general rule if he wants a healthy starting quarterback to open the season.
The Seahawks, on the road for the first time this season, face the same defense that held them to a franchise-worst 4 yards rushing last November in a 35-9 dismantling at the Metrodome.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
In that game, Seattle finished with a meager 212 total yards, going 1-for-10 on third-down conversions. Hasselbeck was sacked twice against the Vikings’ formidable defense, which led the NFL in sacks last season with 48.
To make matters worse, Seattle will be playing without starting left tackle Russell Okung, the rookie who suffered a high-ankle sprain in the second exhibition game and is questionable for the team’s regular-season opener in two weeks.
Okung’s backup? That would have been veteran Ray Willis, but he had arthroscopic surgery for a chronic knee injury and is not available.
Also, projected starting left guard Ben Hamilton has a sore knee and will not play, meaning the Seahawks will start the inexperienced tandem of Mansfield Wrotto at left tackle and Mike Gibson at left guard to protect veteran Hasselbeck’s blind side.
Wrotto and Gibson have one NFL start between them.
But Carroll said Hasselbeck, who has missed 11 games because of injuries the past two years, will play three quarters on Saturday.
“Matt’s going to play into the second half,” Carroll said. “So that’s what the plan is. … That’s what we have to do this week. Everybody is getting ready to play three quarters of football as far as the starters, so we’ll see what happens.”
Hasselbeck understands he needs to get his timing down with the first unit in order to prepare for the regular season. The 34-year-old quarterback played well last week against Green Bay, throwing for 127 yards and a touchdown on 11-of-15 accuracy.
“We just have to go out and do the best we can against them and just realize that they’re going to win some and just stick to the plan and stay focused,” Hasselbeck said.
Carroll said the offense will focus on Minnesota’s traditionally strong pass rush in preparation for Saturday’s game.
“This is a week that we did delve into game-plan thoughts – not fully, but enough to make a statement to the players on how we would do things, so that they would have to make adjustments that you make during a normal game week,” Carroll said. “So there are some things that we are doing this week to help out with the protection.”
And for Carroll, that strategy will extend to protecting his quarterback.
“It does change our concerns about making sure (Hasselbeck) gets the ball out of his hands – we’ve got to make sure he can get that done,” Carroll said. “He needs to play, so he’s going to play in the game and we’ll see what happens. We’ll see how we hold up against those guys.”
TATUPU READY TO GO
After being held back because of a lingering hamstring issue, veteran linebacker Lofa Tatupu will finally see his first game action this week against Minnesota. Tatupu said he’s ready to go.
“This is what we do,” Tatupu said. “It’s not fun sitting there watching everybody have fun. So I’m excited to get back out there. The Vikings are a good team, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Carroll said having Tatupu back should provide a boost for the defense, which has given up three touchdowns in four possessions – the opening two possessions in the first two exhibition games.
For Tatupu, it will be his first game action since October. He missed 11 games last season because of a torn pectoral muscle.
“He’s a very special player,” Carroll said. “We see it during the course of the week in practice. His instincts about finding routes in coverage and play-action passes … is just way above the other guys. It’s that much better.
“So not only will he play that position better, but he also adds to everybody’s play because of his alerts, because of his presence. He’s going to give our guys a heads-up on what’s coming, and he has a special savvy for the game that helps everyone play better.”
Offensive lineman Chester Pitts was taken off the PUP (physically unable to perform) list but did not practice in team drills this week. Carroll said Pitts – returning from microfracture surgery on his right knee – will practice next week in the hope that Pitts can be ready to fill in at left tackle should Okung not make it back from his ankle injury. … Hamilton did not practice for a second straight day because of a sore right knee and will not play on Saturday. … Tight end Cameron Morrah missed two days of practice this week because of the flu, but he did return to practice Thursday and is expected to play on Saturday. … Carroll said Willis had his knee surgery and that everything went well. Willis is expected to miss the start of the regular season. … Linebacker David Hawthorne has a hip issue that has kept him out of practice this week. He won’t play on Saturday, and Will Herring will start in his place. … Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (calf) practiced all week and is expected to play Saturday.