RENTON – James Carpenter’s look of constant consternation has been replaced with a confident smile in the locker room these days, as he received some gentle ribbing from fellow offensive linemen Russell Okung and Max Unger.
“I feel like I’m not a rookie anymore,” Carpenter began.
“What? You’ve played in like three games,” Unger said, listening in.
“I just stopped being a rookie,” added Okung, now in his second year.
“Can you just let me do my interview?” said Carpenter, chuckling. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I feel like I’ve had a lot of weeks to learn and prepare, so things have kind of clicked and I feel like I’ve got it now.”
Throughout exhibition play, Seattle’s first-round draft choice this year looked wide-eyed and appeared to be playing in quick sand, as he struggled to protect quarterback Tarvaris Jackson from the league’s talented edge rushers, giving up three sacks alone against Denver a month ago.
Carpenter, 22, was out of shape and lost, so much so that Seattle head coach Pete Carroll opened up the right tackle position to backup Breno Giacomini, and tinkered with moving the Alabama product to left guard with Robert Gallery unavailable for the team’s regular-season opener because of a sprained knee. Carpenter ended up starting at left guard next to Okung against San Francisco.
But those trying times seem like a distant memory now for Carpenter, who played well for a second straight week at right tackle, according to Carroll.
“He’s improving, but he has more to go,” Carroll said. “Halfway through the season he should be a pretty accomplished right tackle for us. It’s going to take him a little while, but we’re certainly seeing good things. You see positive plays where he gets great movement and where he blows guys out and makes big blocks.”
Carpenter’s a little lighter on his feet. He’s shed 25 pounds from his 6-foot-5 frame since the beginning of training camp in August, which has helped him play faster and with more energy late in games.
“He’s becoming more and more comfortable with himself, with everybody here – not just himself – with the whole offense and what the NFL game is like,” Jackson said. “So the more and more comfortable he gets, the better he’ll be able to use his skills and stuff to his advantage.”
And with the constant repetitions he’s had both in practice and in games, he’s thinking less about what he has to do on each assignment and just going out and playing football.
“Things have slowed down for me a lot since I’ve been doing it for awhile,” Carpenter said. “And all the offensive linemen here have been helping me out a lot. They’ve helped me work hard and pushed me. So it’s pretty easy now.”
“I’m not always looking, as much as he would like me to be sliding over to the right side every time, I am not always doing that,” quipped Unger. “No, he’s doing well. He’s done a great job.”
A native of Augusta, Ga., about 150 miles east of Atlanta, Carpenter said he grew up a Falcons fan. He worked out in Atlanta at Competitive Edge Sports during the lockout. Carpenter said his family will make the trip from Augusta up to Seattle for the game Sunday.
“I was a Michael Vick guy,” he said. “I grew up a fan, but I don’t care this week. I’m going to try and beat them all.”
Seattle linebacker’s coach Ken Norton Jr.’s father, former heavyweight boxing legend Ken Norton Sr., attended practice on Thursday. With October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, several Seattle players will recognize the event by wearing pink cleats, towels, gloves and other gear for Sunday’s game at CenturyLink Field. For Seattle, offensive guard Robert Gallery (groin) remains out. Safety Kam Chancellor (quad) and cornerback Byron Maxwell (ankle) did not practice. Linebacker Matt McCoy (shoulder/head) returned and fully participated in practice. And offensive tackle Jarriel King (ankle) and fullback Michael Robinson (ankle) fully participated in practice. For Atlanta, defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee), linebacker Stephen Nicholas (calf), running back Jason Snelling (concussion), receiver Roddy White (thigh) and defensive end Cliff Matthews (knee) did not participate in practice on Thursday. Cornerback Kelvin Hayden (hamstring) was a limited participant in practice. And offensive tackle Sam Baker (ankle) and linebacker Curtis Lofton (foot) fully participated in practice.