RENTON The Seahawks’ defense has two major questionmarks on the eve of facing the league’s best offense.
Kam Chancellor has “a little groin aggravation” from practice on Thursday, coach Pete Carroll said following Chancellor sitting out Friday’s practice. That leaves the four-time Pro Bowl strong safety officially listed as questionable -- and what Carroll says will be a game-time decision whether to play on Sunday against the 4-1 Atlanta Falcons at CenturyLink Field.
Pass rusher Frank Clark also did not practice Friday. He is also questionable and will also be a game-time decision. Clark “tweaked” (again Carroll’s term) his hamstring in practice on Monday, the first day back from the bye week off.
“He just came out of practice Monday with a sore hamstring,” Carroll said. “Talked to Frank today. He feels really good today, but we are still going to have to wait a couple days and go all the way up to game time on that one, too.
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“We’ve got to make a decision on him about long term and all that. He thinks he’s ready to go. We’ll wait and see.”
The defensive line just got back rookie second-round pick Jarran Reed this week from a hip injury that kept him out of Seattle’s win Oct. 2 at the New York Jets; Carroll said Reed is ready to play fully Sunday. But end/tackle Garrison Smith is questionable with an oblique injury he got in this week of unusual attrition for no-contact work following a week completely off.
“Garrison practiced full today. He’s fine,” Carroll said.
The coach said that’s the reason he thinks Seattle’s defensive line depth is OK even if the Seahawks believe it the risk of playing Clark Sunday is too great for his availability beyond the Atlanta game.
Seattle’s been using Clark inside with Pro Bowl end Michael Bennett as tackles in nickel defenses on passing downs this season, with Cliff Avril and Cassius Marsh outside off each edge. Clark has three sacks in four games.
If Chancellor can’t play, veteran backup and special-teams mainstay Kelcie McCray will at strong safety. McCray started three games last season when Chancellor was out with a pelvis injury, and in that time earned the trust of Seattle’s coaches that he can defend Atlanta’s run and pass game Sunday.
“Kelcie’s already ready to step in,” Carroll said. “We are very fortunate to have him.”
Carroll said this groin injury is on the side different from the groin strain that Chancellor had in 2014.
The coach said wide receiver, punt returner and kickoff returner Tyler Lockett is fully healthy. Lockett sprained his knee in the second game, Sept. 18 at Los Angeles, and has been limited to only returning punts and a few plays on offense since then.
“He’s back,” Carroll said.
But he would not say whether Lockett will return kickoffs against Atlanta. If he does not, C.J. Spiller and Paul Richardson likely will again.
When I asked Lockett is he be fully back in the offense Sunday, the second-year wide receiver sounded like his 65-year-old coach.
“We shall see. You guess is as good as mine,” Lockett said.
“I mean, I used to play (at Kansas State for coach Bill Snyder, notoriously mum on injuries) for Snyder, so I don’t really say much when it comes to playing.”
The Seahawks list C.J. Prosise as questionable for Sunday, but Carroll said it will be next week before the rookie third-round pick returns from a broken bone in his wrist. Spiller, signed days before Seattle’s last game two weeks ago, remains the third-down back with Prosise still out.
With Mike Morgan out for a while following surgery for a sports hernia, Carroll said Kevin Pierre-Louis will play a lot at strongside linebacker against the Falcons. Seattle’s fourth-round pick in 2014 has only played weakside linebacker in his career, in a regular-season game, that is. Seattle’s had him working at strongside linebacker since the spring, after Bruce Irvin signed with Oakland.
The strongside linebacker has been almost a moot point in recent Seahawks games, with how much they’ve played nickel defensive with five backs and two linebackers -- K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner. Atlanta typically plays in more two-back, two-tight-end sets than any previous Seahawks foe this season. That would suggest more base defense for Seattle on Sunday, and thus plenty of Pierre-Louis in his debut there. But given his inexperience there and the fact the Seahawks are leading the league in yards allowed while primarily in nickel so far this season, don’t be surprised if Seattle is in five defensive backs the majority of the game again on Sunday.