RENTON, Wash. (AP) — The biggest question surrounding the Seattle Seahawks enters a new phase this weekend, one where the variables are out of their control.
The race between Geno Smith and Drew Lock to replace Russell Wilson as Seattle's starting quarterback will hit another gear beginning with Saturday's preseason opener at Pittsburgh.
That question won't be answered solely by the results of the first preseason game. But it will be a significant step toward determining who will be the replacement for Wilson after he was traded to Denver in March.
So far, the question has lingered during offseason workouts and minicamps in the spring, the first couple weeks of training camp and a scrimmage last weekend where Lock seemed to gain some momentum after a strong outing with the No. 2 offense against the majority of Seattle's starting defense.
But now the two QBs will face competition that won't be wearing Seahawks colors and a different kind of evaluation.
"We'd love to see the guys execute and they've done really well on the practice field. We'd love to see it carry over, just like I'm talking about," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Thursday. "But then, at the quarterback position, there's opportunities and if there's opportunities there, how do they seize them? Do they come through and make the play? Make the big throw in red zone? Maybe it's in third down or whatever it is and they hit someone open deep. We just have to wait and see."
Smith remains the leader in the competition and is expected be the first quarterback under center against the Steelers. When Smith stepped in for the injured Wilson last season, the Seahawks found a baseline for what Smith could do as the full-time starter. He kept Seattle competitive but also made critical mistakes in losses to Pittsburgh and New Orleans.
Because of his history with the team, Seattle has a rough idea of what Smith's ceiling can be.
"We knew Geno. We knew his stuff, and we've seen a lot of him over the years," Carroll said. "So, there's been few surprises there. He's been really consistent and rock-solid."
That's not the case for Lock, which is why he has the most to potentially gain during the preseason game. His time in Denver was erratic and there was never a great gauge on what he could achieve given the combination of opportunity and stability.
Lock may have a higher ceiling than Smith. But he may also be more prone to mistakes and inconsistency.
"I'm surprised by some stuff that Drew does," Carroll said. "His movement. His natural ability. His ability to move and throw the ball with his feet in awkward positions at times. The quickness of his release. I saw that stuff but until I saw it in person, I didn't know. He's really talented. He's got a lot of skills."
Last weekend's scrimmage was the first opportunity to see the pair in a game setting. Both played well, but there was no obvious separation. Lock had the better overall day leading the No. 2 offense on four of his five possessions and throwing for 185 yards and a touchdown.
Both Lock and Smith understand the situation and have displayed support for one another.
"No matter what, I have Drew Lock's back. I want that to be known," Smith said. "We're teammates, we're competing, but we're in the same offense, we're in the same room, and we're going to make each other better."
Lock was in a similar training camp battle last season with Teddy Bridgewater, who ultimately won the starting role with the Broncos.
"When Teddy got announced the starter in Denver, I did everything I could do for him throughout the week and even on gamedays. I would do the same here," Lock said.
Ultimately, both want the job. And no matter what they've done to this point, Saturday's game at Pittsburgh and next Thursday at home against Chicago are likely to be the determining moments in who ends up in that role on Sept. 12 when the Broncos visit to begin the season.
"Now, it's just down to the competition of it," Carroll said.