The Seattle Seahawks enter the final week of the preseason having solved --- in their own minds, at least --- one vexing problem: the offensive line.
The line was maybe the team's biggest question mark entering training camp and the Seahawks spent the first two weeks rotating a number of players at spots such as center and left guard.
But after the third game of the preseason and entering the fourth Thursday against Oakland, Seattle coaches say they have settled on a quintet to carry them into the season.
That fivesome consists of left tackle Russell Okung, left guard Justin Britt, center Drew Nowak, right guard J.R. Sweezy and right tackle Garry Gilliam.
The Seahawks switched to that grouping after the first preseason game against Denver. The biggest move was that of Britt from starting right tackle to left guard, where the Seahawks needed a replacement for James Carpenter, who left in the offseason as a free agent and signed with the Jets.
Nowak also became the starting center, moving ahead of Lemuel Jeanpierre, who had entered training camp as the presumed starter.
"Yeah, I think this is really a good group of guys,'' said Seattle head coach Pete Carroll. "This is what we had hoped would happen, that they would come together and show something. I think we've seen enough signs that the foundation for a really good group is there, it's just going to continue to take time as they just grow together.''
Nowak takes over for Max Unger, who was dealt to New Orleans as part of the trade that netted Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham, leaving only Sweezy and Okung as players who have ever started a game in the NFL at their current position.
The Seahawks won't have much wiggle room to break in the line as they open the season at St. Louis against a Rams team that has one of the best front sevens in the NFL.
The line hasn't looked overly impressive in the preseason, with the Seattle starting offense yet to score a touchdown. In 12 possessions, the starting offense has four field goals, seven punts and a lost fumble (that occurring against Denver when Britt, then at right tackle, was beaten by Von Miller for a sack and fumble caused of Russell Wilson).
But Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable said the line has made marked improvement the last two games.
"I think we're kind of settled in as far as where we're going,'' Cable said. "I think we still need to get a feel for health and where the depth lies and how it all fits together. I feel like if we were playing tomorrow, that group would go out and play.
"I think if anyone is really confident, it's probably me more than anybody because I see them every day, but I've seen what they've done the last two weeks, and we haven't been like that in weeks two and three in the preseason thus far, so pretty excited."
The Seahawks have to hope Cable is right as the line has loomed as the one real uncertainty about the team entering the regular season.
The offensive skill positions project to be as good or better than a year ago with Wilson and tailback Marshawn Lynch in the fold, and the addition of Graham.
And the defense also could be as good as it's been, despite the head-scratching holdout of strong safety Kam Chancellor, with coaches saying the front seven could be faster than it has ever been, and cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas back and healthy to lead the Legion of Boom.
--The Seahawks got a visit on Tuesday from running back Fred Jackson,who was released the day before by the Buffalo Bills. But he did not immediately sign with the Seahawks waiting to see how Jackson did in his physical and also assessing whether they had the need for Jackson. Seattle grew more interested in Jackson after finding out that backup tailback Robert Turbin had suffered a high ankle sprain in Saturday's game at San Diego. Jackson played alongside Seattle starting tailback Marshawn Lynch in Buffalo for most of the 2007-10 seasons so the Seahawks don't have to worry about how Jackson would be received in the locker room. But Seattle also has seemed set at tailback with Turbin and Christine Michael behind Lynch.
--Carroll said Turbin suffered "a significant'' ankle sprain, which in Carroll speak means Turbin could be out quite a while. But Carroll didn't say how long Turbin could be sidelined.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--FS Earl Thomas is on track to be ready for the opener against the Rams but will not play against the Oakland Raiders in the final preseason game Thursday. Thomas practiced without restrictions Tuesday. "He's ready to go, so he'll come back next week," head coach Pete Carroll said of Thomas, who had surgery in February to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. "He'll have to play without (playing a preseason game), but he's worked so hard, he looks really fast, he's running great and moving well, I think he's going to be ready to go. As ready as we can get him at this point."
--WR Chris Matthews, who suffered a sprained shoulder in the Denver game, practiced Tuesday and could play Thursday.
--SLB Mike Morgan has a pulled hamstring, head coach Pete Carroll said. But the severity is uncertain. Morgan is battling with Eric Pinkins for a roster spot.
--QB Tarvaris Jackson is on track to be ready for the season opener after suffering a sprained ankle against Denver.
--SS Kam Chancellor remains holding out, with his absence reaching 33 days as of Tuesday. Head coach Pete Carroll said there was nothing new on the Chancellor front Tuesday, saying simply "uh, no''when asked if anything had changed.