Countdown to kickoff

Greetings from Qwest Field, where the Seahawks are just taking the field to prepare for today’s season opener against the NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers.

This game has almost as many story lines are roster moves made by the tandem of coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider since they arrived in January to restock a team that won nine games the past two seasons.

And what better way to kick it off than against the 49ers, not only the preseason favorite to win the division for the first time since 2002 but a team Carroll grew up in the Bay Area rooting for and also coached for in the mid 90s. The is Carroll’s return to the NFL after his ridiculously successful nine-year run at the University of Southern California that included a 97-19 record, two national championships and seven consecutive Pac-10 titles. You can read more about Carroll’s mindset entering this game.

But that was then, and this is now. Here are some elements to ponder as you get ready for the game:

Carroll admitted this week that the Seahawks have been game planning for months with an eye to this matchup. To say he’s geeked doesn’t quite capture his level of anticipation. For more on that, click here.

Matt Hasselbeck makes his 10th start in a season opener for the Seahawks. You can read more about that here. Carroll has said all offseason that the keys to Hasselbeck recovering his form after two injury-plagued and -interrupted seasons is the ability to take some pressure off him by running the ball and then protecting him when he drops back to pass. But the running game was ineffective during the preseason and first-round draft choice Russell Okung, the handpicked player to start at the pivotal left tackle position, is out because of a sprained ankle. Justin Forsett gets the start at running back, and is determined to provide the hot hand that Carroll says it will take for one of the backs to continue getting carries as Julius Jones and Leon Washington await their turns. Tyler Polumbus, who joined the team last week, replaces Okung and will be facing the 49ers’ Justin Smith. That matchup is vital to the Seahawks’ success, so look for offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates to deploy a tight end in giving Polumbus help in obvious passing situations.

Speaking of Washington, he will return kickoffs in his return from the severely broken right leg that ended his 2009 season with the New York Jets. Washington got some work at running back during the preseason, but the 2008 AFC Pro Bowl returner has not returned a kickoff since early last season.

The emergence – or reemergence – of Mike Williams has been on the feel-good stories of this offseason. After being out of the league the past two seasons, the former Top 10 draft choice of the Detroit Lions has been reunited with his college coach and played well enough that the Seahawks were able to release T.J. Houshmandzadeh and turn the starting split end job over to Williams.

The defense will have to deal with the riddle that is 49ers running back Frank Gore. He had only 25 rushing yards at Qwest Field last season; in large part because coach Mike Singletary gave him the ball only nine times after deciding that passing was the way to beat the Seahawks on that day. It didn’t work. Alex Smith did throw for 310 yards and two touchdowns, but the Seahawks won 20-17 – their fifth, and final, victory last season. But Gore has run for 212 and 207 yards against the Seahawks in the past, and also has a 144-yard effort at Qwest.

On special teams, Olindo Mare ended last season with a club-record streak of 21 consecutive field goals. He’ll look to prolong it against the 49ers. Michael Robinson was the 49ers’ special teams captain last season. Today, he’s a Seahawk. Click here for more on his story. The most consistent player during the preseason was punter Jon Ryan, so his ability to alter and enhance field position will be critical.

That’s just scratching the surface on all the things to look for in this game, but it will have to suffice for now. We’ll be back later with the list of inactive players and the quarterly reports.

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