SEATTLE (AP) — When Matt Hasselbeck last walked off the turf following a game in Seattle, he truly did not believe it would be his final time in a Seahawks uniform.
It was after the 2010 NFC wild card game when the Seahawks upset the defending Super Bowl champion Saints and Hasselbeck left the field with his son, Henry, propped on his shoulders and his two daughters by his side. He knew his contract was up and the Seahawks may go a different route, but on that night not wearing a Seattle uniform was the farthest thing from Hasselbeck’s mind.
“Even though I knew it very easily could be, I just didn’t feel that in my heart,” Hasselbeck said this week. “So it’ll be nice to get an opportunity to go back and play some football.”
It’ll mostly be a cameo for Hasselbeck, but an important one at that, when the Tennessee Titans (No. 21 in the AP Pro32) come to Seattle for their preseason opener against the Seahawks (No. 22, Pro32) on Saturday night. Hasselbeck will get the start, about 12 to 15 plays according to coach Mike Munchak, and a chance at a bit of closure after an abrupt departure from Seattle before the start of the 2011 season.
“Just because of where this game is and it is a preseason game, I think I may soak it in just a little bit more,” Hasselbeck said. “Just enjoy the moment and the fact that I’m back there playing against some friends, playing in front of some friends, and obviously a place that was really, really special to me and my family.”
Usually, the first preseason game draws little interest outside of maybe seeing the respective first-round picks see their initial game action in the NFL. But in this case, Seattle’s Bruce Irvin and Tennessee’s Kendall Wright are mostly afterthoughts.
For this night, it’s all about the quarterbacks.
On the Titans sideline is the question of whether second-year QB Jake Locker — a Washington graduate also making his return home — is ready to take the reins from Hasselbeck. For the Seahawks, it’s the debut of offseason free agent acquisition Matt Flynn and rookie Russell Wilson, both part of a three-way QB competition with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson. The Seahawks intend to have Flynn play the entire first half, with Wilson taking over in the second half while Jackson sits back and watches.
“I’m excited about it. It’s not something that I’m nervous about, or think too much about,” Flynn said. “I’m excited I get the opportunity. This is kind of what I have been looking for and waiting for.”
Hasselbeck led Seattle to the playoffs in 2010 — albeit as division champs with a losing record — but was told by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider that the team was going in another direction at quarterback and thanked him for his near-decade of service in July 2011.
So gone were the comforts, the friends and the familiarity of Seattle. He arrived in Tennessee to find a familiar face he only knew a little in Locker, the former star across town at Washington, who was drafted with the No. 8 overall pick of the 2011 draft. While Hasselbeck was happy to be wanted, he also understood he was stepping into a situation where eventually the franchise wanted its first-round pick to take over.
The question is whether that happens for the start of the 2012 season. Saturday night is the first test, with Locker expected to play through the first half after taking over from Hasselbeck.
“I think the roles changed a little bit where you’re not just competing, you’re also in a sense — I hate to say mentoring because I’m not mentoring anybody — I’m just doing what I do and trying to do it well,” Hasselbeck said. “But I think there’s an added responsibility to be very unselfish and like an open book and very transparent and helpful to the guys that you’re in the room competing with.”
Hasselbeck played well starting all 16 games last season, throwing for more than 3,500 yards and 18 touchdowns. But the Titans got flashes of Locker — specifically in Weeks 14 and 15 against New Orleans and Indianapolis — that the specter was raised about a QB competition entering the 2012 season.
“I don’t feel like it has changed things. For me, I haven’t approached it any different than I did last year,” Locker said.
While it’s a two-man race for the starting job with the Titans, it remains a three-man race in Seattle, at least for now. Carroll said the decision to let Flynn and Wilson take all the snaps against Tennessee is more because they know what Jackson can do since he started 14 games last season. This is the opportunity for the newcomers to leave an impression.
Flynn will get the start following his best stretch of training camp thus far.
“There’s going to be highs and lows in the game I’m sure,” Wilson said. “But the key is weathering the storm, playing great football, executing one play at a time, and making the other 10 guys in the huddle better.”
– Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.