NFL Preseason opener: Hawks aim to impress

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RENTON, Wash. — Exhibition games have always been best viewed as open auditions for young players trying to make an NFL team to show their stuff.

That’s even more true now, however, after changes made in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement that limited the number of full-pads practices teams can hold during training camp.

And that means the four exhibition games the Seahawks will play this year — beginning Thursday night at 7 p.m. when Seattle battles the Chargers in San Diego — will take on even greater weight.

“The way we look at it is this is the time to find out full-speed football,’’ said coach Pete Carroll. “We are not trying to fool you that we are tackling (in practice). We are not tackling out here. These four games are huge for that.’’

And as Carroll says, while some players may stand out in practice “now it comes to game time. And things change sometimes (in games) and we have to get to the truth — who are these guys and what are they all about and where do they fit in and how can we best utilize their talents?’’

Here are some of the players the Seahawks are most eager to see Thursday:

• Middle linebacker Allen Bradford: With starter Bobby Wagner having been limited of late with a shoulder issue, Bradford likely gets the start. A former running back at USC (he rushed for 223 yards in a 2010 game against Washington), he began making the move to linebacker in 2011 and has steadily worked his way up the depth chart. “It is a really big opportunity for Allen,’’ Carroll said Wednesday.

• Defensive tackles Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill: The two rookies — Hill a third-round pick and Williams a fifth-rounder — have made good strides lately. Williams has shaken off some early knee soreness and has gotten some consistent time with the No. 1 defense. Hill is working as a backup and a starter in the nickel defense.

• Running back Christine Michael: The team’s first 2013 draftee, taken in the second round, Michael will get lots of work Thursday, with Marshawn Lynch likely to make a token appearance and Robert Turbin still on the mend. Michael also will get a crack at returning kickoffs, a spot that is vacant with the loss to injury for three or four months of Percy Harvin. Of Michael returning kickoffs against the Chargers, Carroll said, “Kind of anxious to see that myself.’’

• Defensive end/linebacker Mike Morgan: With Cliff Avril, Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin all out due to injury, Morgan is likely to start against the Chargers at rush end and will get plenty of chances to show if the added strength he has displayed in practice translates to making an impact in a game.

• LB John Lotulelei: The Seahawks gave the rookie from UNLV a $25,000 signing bonus, the most any team awarded any undrafted rookie this season and evidence of their faith in his potential. Lotuleli is in the running to be a backup at weakside linebacker to K.J. Wright, as well as to play on special teams.

• TEs Luke Willson and Sean McGrath: With Zach Miller still out, Willson — a fifth-round pick from Rice — and McGrath, a second-year player, are the primary tight ends. With the Seahawks likely to keep at least three tight ends, each appears in good shape to make the team. But the Seahawks will want to see what each can do with extended playing time in exhibitions.

• WRs Chris Harper and Stephen Williams: The loss of Harvin means there’s another roster spot for a receiver that is waiting to be filled. And after the top four of Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse, a jumble of players is trying to make an impression. Harper, as a fourth-round pick, has been coming on in recent days, Carroll said Wednesday. The 6-foot-5 Williams, who played two years in Arizona, has the size others don’t.

• CB Jeremy Lane: Lane impressed in three starts last season as a rookie. But the addition of Antoine Winfield and the return to health of Walter Thurmond mean the competition at cornerback is greater than ever.

• QBs Brady Quinn and Tarvaris Jackson: Neither of these guys is young. And it’s widely expected that Jackson will ultimately win the backup spot behind Russell Wilson. Still, Carroll publicly says the competition is wide open, and a battle of two veteran QBs for a backup job is always intriguing. Each should see ample playing time against the Chargers.

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