Donovan Smith was going through relatively rote answers to yet more questions at the NFL’s scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Then, suddenly, the big tackle’s dark eyes lit up. Someone mentioned Garry Gilliam.
“I just saw him when I was training in San Diego!” Smith said this winter of the Seahawks’ 2014 rookie tackle — and Smith’s roommate for most of their time at Penn State.
“I took an hour drive up to where he was staying at. And we just chilled, chatted it up, hung out a little bit. It was great to be reunited with him. He was my roommate for three years, so it was really good.
“He was doing great about it.”
Could he have been recruiting for Seattle, too?
The Seahawks do not have a selection on Thursday, the draft’s featured first day that has only the first round. They sent their 31st overall pick to New Orleans in March in the trade for tight end Jimmy Graham.
Seattle also sent two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger to the Saints to get Graham and an extra pick in Saturday’s fourth round. The trade came just before free agent left guard James Carpenter signed this past month with the New York Jets.
The Seahawks also have a starting left tackle, Russell Okung, who has a recent history of injuries and is entering the final year of his contract. Okung’s salary is currently scheduled to count a hefty $7.28 million against the salary cap in 2015, if the Seahawks don’t ask the sixth overall pick from 2010 to restructure that salary first.
So Seattle needs a new starting center, a left guard and — eventually — a left tackle.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and offensive line coach Tom Cable do not like, but rather love adaptability and physicality in their blockers.
Rob Rang, the Tacoma-based draft guru for CBSSports.com and NFLDraftScout.com, thinks Oregon center Hroniss Grasu will likely be available at the bottom of the second round, when Seattle has its first selection at No. 63 overall. NFLDraftScout.com notes Grasu’s athleticism and him being a “plug-and-play option in a zone-blocking scheme.”
He may also be available in the third round, given the soft draft market this year at center.
Asked last month if a rookie center could start this fall directing the Seahawks’ offense, Carroll said, “It’s a lot to ask a young guy, yes.”
That’s why the Seahawks say if the season started tomorrow they’d be comfortable with Patrick Lewis starting again in 2015. Lewis started four games at center last season and was re-signed during the 2014-15 season.
It’s also why they recently re-signed Lemuel Jeanpierre, Unger’s backup the past five seasons who started three games in 2014-15.
It’s why the Seahawks hosted free-agent centers Stefen Wisniewski from Oakland and Houston’s Chris Myers. Wisniewski signed with Jacksonville; Myers remains available.
Asked last week if a rookie could anchor his offensive line at center, Schneider said: “I think with Coach Cable and his staff, I think it’s viable.
“You have to remember, on both sides of the ball are good teaching staffs.”
As for guard, Rang noted when the Seahawks took Carpenter in the first round with the 25th overall pick in 2011, he had started 27 games at Alabama at left tackle — not at guard.
Offensive tackle is the position where Smith made 31 starts at Penn State entering this draft.
NFLDraftScout.com’s synopsis of the 6-foot-6, 341-pound Smith, who is leaving college with a year of athletic eligibility remaining at PSU: “Looks the part of a big-time NFL tackle. He has broad shoulders, long arms and evenly distributed weight to be a mainstay outside. He’s also light on his feet and effective in pass protection and run blocking. … Brings a lot to the table with size, foot quickness and highly competitive nature. … Needs to improve in several areas — arm and hand technique to better shield himself to combat initial pass rush moves is the most glaring. …”
Some see his quickness and think “NFL guard.” Others think Smith could be a center in the pros.
Here’s something else that shows Smith’s versatility.
“I played for three different schemes at Penn State,” Smith said at the combine, noting four tumultuous years of coaching turnover and turmoil at Penn State.
NFLDraftScout.com has Smith rated as the No. 11 left tackle in the draft. That means he could also be available at selection No. 63 in the second round Friday. So it’s conceivable Seattle could get its possible replacement guard in round two with Smith, then its center with Grasu in round three.
Rang mentioned another versatile tackle whom the Seahawks may be interested in, and who may be available for Seattle to take in rounds two or three: Colorado State’s Ty Sambrailo. Among other things, the 6-6, 309-pound starter for three years at both left tackle and guard was a youth freestyle skiing champion. That’s deeper athletic roots than the average offensive 309-pound offensive lineman.
Rang noted Sambrailo “has a little of that brawler mentality that Tom Cable is obviously a fan of.”
We can guess whom Gilliam is rooting for his team to pick. Seattle’s surprise as an undrafted rookie tackle last season was a tight end for three years while rooming with Smith at Penn State. Gilliam wowed Smith and everyone else when he caught a touchdown pass on a fake field goal in January’s NFC championship.
Gilliam’s advice to his old roomie on entering the NFL?
“It’s a lot. It’s not easy,” Smith said Gilliam told him. “Everything’s going to be thrown at you. You need to be able to adapt, pick things up quickly, and go out there and perform. A lot has to do with confidence. You have to be confident in yourself and compete.
“He also told me to have fun. A lot of guys, they take this all so seriously and work themselves to death.”
Then Smith smiled, knowing he’s about to get drafted though not knowing where.
“But it’s a game,” he said. “Have fun.”