RENTON – On the second day after his belated training camp appearance, Seahawks tackle Russell Okung looked big and strong, and very much like a rookie with a lot of ground to make up.
The next month or so is important to Okung and the Seahawks to the extent that his development may be the single most critical component of this team’s offensive development.
Okung missed a week with an unsigned contract, a period of truancy that made him the NFL’s last first-round pick to make it to camp. If line coach Alex Gibbs ever fails to teach him how to be stubbornly gritty, Okung can consult his agent for lessons.
His appearance Friday led to conjecture how long he would be operating with the second team. That didn’t last long. On Saturday morning, he worked exclusively with the starting unit.
Why not? It’s a week until the first exhibition game. And, folks, he’s got a ways to go.
During early drills Saturday, his botched footwork once appeared responsible for tripping left guard Ben Hamilton. He had a false start in one team session, and got beaten badly to the gap by defensive tackle Brandon Mebane another time.
But other than that … not bad. Although “not bad” will seem like a liability once he’s facing the best pass rushers in the regular season.
Once presumptive Hall of Fame tackle Walter Jones was lost for his final season with an injury, the 2009 Seahawks were crippled by a series of largely ineffective and injury-plagued fill-ins. The offense suffered.
Hence the use of the No. 6 overall draft pick on Okung.
“Obviously, with what we did in the draft, they made (left tackle) a priority,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “From day one, the first day that everyone got here, that was just understood that was going to be a priority, and we’re taking him, and then we don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
Not so fast with the absence of worries. Okung will face a daunting challenge.
In 1992, the Seahawks used another high pick, No. 10, to take left tackle Ray Roberts of Virginia. Roberts jumped in immediately as a 16-game starter, and although he turned into a steady pro tackle in time, he was spinning like a turnstile at times that first season.
The player with the best perspective on Okung’s status and potential is defensive end Chris Clemons, who has been playing against Okung in minicamps and offseason workouts.
“Russell is a very strong individual,” Clemons said. “His punch is strong and he’s a smart player … you can already see that he’s learning things every day.”
Clemons, a seven-year veteran, has had to study left tackles across the NFL, and is a sound evaluator of the requirements of those who play the position.
“The biggest thing for him is to adjust to the speed he’ll see every Sunday coming from the quarterback’s blind side,” Clemons said. “He has no choice but to be on his game every play, and to know what he’s supposed to do every play, because he can get the quarterback hurt.”
With Okung missing part of training camp, Clemons expects the rookie to need heavy study sessions on the scheme in preparation for the way opponents will attack him with blitzes.
Clemons already is offering Okung the wisdom of his experience.
“We talk all the time on what he should expect and how he can beat it,” Clemons said. “We’ve been working on his set (blocking posture). He has long arms and he has to use those to keep them from getting into his body. He has to learn to use the tools he’s been blessed with. He seems to be taking it in and dealing with it pretty well, actually.”
But this is only practice, and life changes dramatically for a rookie once the games start for real, Clemons said.
“He hasn’t really been thrown in the fire yet,” Clemons said. “You never know what will happen until that first game, and he’s going to need to stay mentally focused. But I think he’s going to be a really, really good left tackle in this league.”
And for the Seahawks, the sooner the better.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440