RENTON – J.R. Sweezy answered quickly when Seattle Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable asked the North Carolina State defensive lineman how he felt about switching to what he deemed the dark side – the offensive line – in the NFL.
“I told them I’d be the punter if they wanted me to be,” Sweezy said, jokingly. “I just want to play ball. I love this sport. I love this game.”
A linebacker and fullback in high school, Sweezy said he had played offensive line only once, in youth football when he didn’t make the weight limit to play running back.
But Seattle’s seventh-round selection in this year’s draft surprisingly didn’t look out of place after getting a handful of repetitions at right guard with the first unit offense during the team’s first exhibition game against Tennessee on Saturday.
“I’m shocked, really,” Cable said about Sweezy’s quick development. “I think he’s doing a fine job in terms of his learning. Every day it’s new for him, in terms of whatever he’s experiencing he’s never experienced before.
“He’s not the typical defensive lineman who played offensive and defensive line in high school. He was a linebacker and fullback kid in high school. So he’s never been an offensive lineman and never put his hand on the ground that way. So this has been his first time, and his transition so far, I would say he’s ahead of schedule. Now let’s see how far we can take it.”
Under Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, the team has a history of taking chances on players with untapped potential who did not necessarily fit the traditional mold of an NFL player.
The Seahawks drafted Kam Chancellor out of Virginia Tech in the fifth round. At 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, Chancellor played cornerback for the Hokies, and was built more like a linebacker than a safety. But the Seahawks thought he had the speed and the instincts to be a high-quality defensive back.
Chancellor confirmed those thoughts by making the Pro Bowl in his first season as a starter last year.
Seattle drafted 6-3 cornerback Richard Sherman in the fifth round last year, a converted receiver at Stanford who played defensive back his final two seasons in college. After injuries to Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond, Sherman took the starting cornerback job and developed into one of the better cover guys in the game in a short time.
At 6-5 and 300 pounds, Sweezy is fast for an offensive lineman – running the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds. And because of his defensive background, Sweezy plays with a mean streak that fits nicely with the type of swagger Cable wants his players to exude on the field.
“We kind of clown him a little bit because he’s a D-lineman,” said Seattle offensive tackle Breno Giacomini, who lines up next to Sweezy. “But it’s all in fun. That’s a good skill that he does have – that fight in him.
“(You’ve) got to help him on every play, really, because he’s so new to this. But he’s getting it. He’s getting it fast – a lot faster than when I switched from tight end to tackle. So that’s a compliment.”
Sweezy, 23, said he has had to learn how to react to what’s happening in front of him instead of always being the aggressor as a defensive lineman.
“As a defensive player you’re always attacking and playing downhill,” he said. “As an offensive player you’ve got to sit back. And if you attack, you get beat a lot. So it’s a big emphasis for me to sit back, let things develop and then attack once I see it.”
Even with his limited amount of playing time, Sweezy has a chance to make Seattle’s final roster. Projected starter John Moffitt is expected to be out two to three weeks after he has surgery to remove loose particles in his left elbow. Veteran Deuce Lutui has been plugged in to take Moffitt’s spot with the starters, but if he falters Sweezy is next in line.
And Seattle’s offensive line has had trouble staying healthy the past two seasons. Seattle had 10 different starting offensive line combinations in 2010, and seven last season.
Sweezy said he’s just thankful that Cable took a chance on him.
“He’s a great teacher,” Sweezy said. “In the film room, he helps me every day, pointing out things. After practice he tells me stuff to work on. The older guys are sticking around. Like I ask them probably 100 questions a day – I’m probably getting on their nerves. But they’re helping me out, and I’m continuing to grow.”Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks