Countdown to kickoff

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Happy New Year from University of Phoenix Stadium, where the Seahawks will close their 2011 season on this first day of 2012 against the Arizona Cardinals – with kickoff and televised coverage on Fox (channel 13 in Seattle) scheduled for 1:15 p.m. PDT.

One thought has been difficult to shake this week: How is it that a season that seemed like it never would get here will be over in about five hours?

Things have been a blur since the 136-day lockout ended way back in late July, and the run-up to this game has followed suit. Although it seems like the Seahawks have nothing to play for today after last week’s loss to the 49ers eliminated them from the NFC playoff chase, there’s actually quite a bit on the line in this one.

First and foremost is the opportunity to finish 8-8. Nothing to get that excited about until you stop to think that the Seahawks have gone 4-12, 5-11 and 7-9 the past three seasons – under three different coaches. So reaching .500 would be significant for this season, as well as next.

Also, a lot of players have a lot to play for.

“It’s very important for these guys to make their statements,” coach Pete Carroll said after Friday’s practice. “Guys that are getting their playing time, guys on (special) teams – there’s a number of guys that have been with us just a few weeks on the active roster that this is a great opportunity for them.

“Every day we come out here, every day is an opportunity to show and game time is the crucial time when you really get a good look.”

Carroll does not expect the massive roster turnover that has been the norm since he and general manager John Schneider walked through the door almost 24 months ago. That’s because of the young talent they have been able to acquire – through the draft, free agency and trades. So if a new player earns a roster spot for the 2012 season, it will be at the expense of a pretty good player.

The first infusion of talent will be the return of players who spent this season, or part of it, on injured reserve. It’s a group that includes cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond; offensive linemen Russell Okung, James Carpenter and John Moffitt, all starters when they went down; wide receivers Sidney Rice, Mike Williams and Kris Durham; defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson; and special teams standout and linebacker Matt McCoy.

The next period when the Seahawks will be able to “increase the pile” will be free agency, when a major priority will be re-signing their own players because the list of potential free agents includes running back Marshawn Lynch, middle linebacker David Hawthorne, defensive end Red Bryant, fullback Michael Robinson, right tackle Breno Giacomini, tight end John Carlson, defensive linemen Anthony Hargrove and Alan Branch and Heath Farwell, who leads the team in special teams tackles.

Then comes the NFL Draft, where the Seahawks have added seven starters the past two years, and this year could help address the needs for a quarterback of the future and a pass-rusher to complement Chris Clemons.

That’s why those with this one last chance to “show” in the 2011 season need to take advantage of it with an eye to 2012.

“If they don’t understand the thing about competition now and how important it is and taking advantage of their opportunities, then I’m not doing a very good job of teaching because that’s all they have ever heard and they know,” Carroll said. “It’s what’s going to make us continue to keep pushing and not be satisfied, and hopefully we can see is we can make some noise next time around.”

All the players can get a jumpstart on that task with boisterous outings in today’s season finale.

And the Seahawks have had success against the Cardinals under Carroll. They’re not only 3-0, the Cardinals have scored 38 points in those three losses – 22-10 and 36-18 last season and 13-10 in Week 3 this season.

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