RENTON – When I approached Max Unger before practice Thursday afternoon, he was the lone Seahawks offensive lineman in the locker room.
We may presume all the others were in surgery or the recovery room.
The superstitious fan may wish to touch wood or polish a horseshoe at the mention of this, but Unger is the only starting offensive lineman to avoid a season-ending injury or surgery.
Even their line coach, Tom Cable, kept in the spirit of it and underwent back surgery this season.
Toss in tight end John Carlson, another up-front guy lost with an injury, and Unger could be excused if he’s looking suspiciously over his shoulder.
“It’s obviously not what you want,” Unger said. “But it’s part of the game and there’s not a heck of a lot we can do about it. Stuff like this happens and when it does, you can’t worry about it.”
Unger understands the perils after missing 15 games last season with a serious toe injury. He even sat out the Cleveland game this season with a minor foot injury. But, as of now, he’s the O-line’s Iron Man.
First, veteran left guard Robert Gallery missed three games after groin surgery. Then rookies John Moffitt and James Carpenter were lost in a span of four days with serious knee injuries.
And in last game, a win over of Philadelphia, left tackle Russell Okung was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, the result of a late, cheap shot by Eagles defensive end Trent Cole.
Cole’s after-the-whistle body slam drew a league fine of $7,500 for putting an end to Okung’s season. That seems inexcusably lenient considering players get docked five grand for merely having their shirttails out.
Even amid this orthopedic onslaught, the Seahawks have rushed for more than 100 yards in five straight games – their best streak since the Super Bowl season of 2005 when the offense operated behind what was considered the best line in the game.
Cable’s influence has been obvious, and the improvement progressive. With two rookies on the right side, the Seahawks started last in the league in rushing and stood only 31st by Week 8.
But in the past five games, they’ve averaged 141 yards rushing a game, a figure that would put them in the top four of the league if sustained over the full season.
“In the running game in the last month, if you look back to the mid-point of the season, we really have improved tremendously, and the line of scrimmage has been so much more in our favor,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Cable has been surprisingly successful plugging backups in for injured starters, as Breno Giacomini, Paul McQuistan and Lemuel Jeanpierre have been thrust into starting roles.
Last season, when injuries on the line plagued the Sea-hawks, Carroll and GM John Schneider practically put out want ads for any surly mesomorphs without employment. This season, the manpower is already on the roster.
“I’m appreciating familiar faces,” Carroll said. “We have guys that have been with us and guys that have been in all those meetings all those times. I’m just glad that after three big losses (we were) still able to use the guys that have been with us all along.”
And still, at the center of it all is Unger, in his third season out of Oregon.
“Max has done a great job for us … a beautiful job for us, and he’s really improved during the season,” Carroll said. “He’s really taken charge of the front.”
Unger contends that the necessary shuffling up front has been smoothed by the fact that the fill-ins are well-versed in the system and the communication.
Having the veteran Gallery on his left has been a steadying influence, too. Gallery, meanwhile, has witnessed Unger’s growth and development.
“He’s a smart guy, which is good to have at center since he has to direct things up front,” Gallery said. “He’s very good at that. And, physically, he’s great in this system. He can move and get to the second level … ”
And, of critical importance, he can stay healthy.
Knock on wood.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 email@example.com