RENTON – He has hobbled his way through most of his rookie season, and Russell Okung won’t be fully healthy until after it’s finally over.
But Okung has had a positive effect when he’s been in the lineup, particularly in the run game. The Seahawks have averaged 11 more rushing yards a game with the former Oklahoma State offensive tackle in the lineup, including the team’s top three rushing totals of the season.
The problem has been keeping the 23-year-old healthy. Twice Okung has been out for three-game stretches because of high-ankle sprains. Okung missed the first three games of the season because of a high-ankle sprain on his left leg suffered in the second exhibition game in August.
He saw his first action against Sunday’s opponent, St. Louis, playing 26 plays in a 20-3 loss to the Rams on Oct. 3.
Three weeks later, Okung suffered a high-ankle sprain on his right leg that forced him to miss three more games. He’s been hobbled ever since, playing through pain that probably will not subside until he has time to heal up.
“It’s been a big challenge for him,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s never been out of the training room all year because of what he’s gone through. Hopefully, next time around, he will grow enormously from the experience and he’ll be a different guy physically.
“I think he’s busting his tail to get it done at this point, but there’s a lot left out there right now.”
Toughness is not an issue for Okung. He does not miss practice. Doctors try to keep him off the field, despite his constant pleas to return, but he eventually finds his way back on the field.
Okung played in 52 games in college, including the last 47 straight at Oklahoma State, so durability was not an issue in his past.
“We all want to see him do good, but it’s part of the game with the injuries,” said offensive tackle Sean Locklear. “I think he wants to play fast, and he’s been doing what he can. ...
“But those things kind of hurt him. He’s been playing as well as he can, and getting the job done. I’m not saying he’s playing bad. He’s been playing good. But he could be playing a lot better if he was 100 percent healthy.”
Okung has started nine games, sometimes looking dominant and other times overmatched. The Seahawks have had to deal with the growing pains of watching a rookie play left tackle, attempting to replace one of the best ever to play the position in Walter Jones.
Drafted No. 6 overall by Seattle last April, Okung has big shoes to fill. Left tackle is the key position on the offensive line, and it had been a position of strength the Seahawks did not have to concern themselves with for more than a decade.
“People can look at the Walter Jones days and you never worried about it,” offensive line coach Art Valero said. “Matt (Hasselbeck) never worried about it, and none of the other quarterbacks had to worry about that particular side because Steve Hutchinson was there as well, so you never had to worry about that side.
“ ... The left-tackle position is crucial, and everybody else kind of falls in line. They all still work together but he has to set the tempo. That’s why he’s here.”
THOMAS NAMED PRO BOWL ALTERNATE
Earl Thomas was named a Pro Bowl alternate on Wednesday, a day after rosters for the NFC and AFC were announced.
The rookie safety is among the league leaders with five interceptions this season, and is tied for second on the team with 74 tackles. Thomas was hoping for some better news, but still is happy the have a shot to go to Hawaii.
“I feel pretty good about it,” Thomas said. “I think there’s a lot of politics that go into it. But I’m happy to be in this situation. Right now I’m just worried about the game Sunday, and hopefully we can get a win and make the playoffs.”
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (hip), linebacker Lofa Tatupu (knee), kicker Olindo Mare (back) and wide receiver Brandon Stokley (head) did not practice on Wednesday. Carroll said he does not expect Hasselbeck to practice all week, and the decision of whether he plays could come down to game time on Sunday. ... Offensive lineman Stacy Andrews says he’s not injured and is ready to play. After starting 12 straight games at right guard, Andrews has been a healthy scratch on the inactive list for the past two weeks, as coach Pete Carroll has gone with Chester Pitts at left guard and Mike Gibson at right guard. Carroll said he wanted to get quicker at the interior line positions, and that Andrews’ more natural position is right tackle. One reason Andrews asked to leave Philadelphia is the Eagles did not use him at right tackle. He’s due to make $5.25 million in base salary in 2011 if Seattle keeps him, making him one of the NFL’s higher paid right tackles.