Tom Cable is not only the Seahawks’ offensive line coach, but he’s also their resident mixologist.
The Seahawks’ only mandatory minicamp practice of the offseason Thursday in Renton will include Michael Bennett and Bruce Irvin. The defense’s edge rushers have stayed away from Seattle’s voluntary workouts this spring because they’ve been mad about money.
It will have Russell Wilson flinging throws to Jimmy Graham, his new tight end who might change the Seahawks’ games and entire offense in 2015.
It might even have Marshawn Lynch — although the running back usually absent in the offseason could stay inside team headquarters and abstain from the no-pads, no-contract, no-big-whoop practice.
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It will definitely have Cable’s experiments ongoing in front of Wilson and Lynch.
Cable has been using more centers than a hockey team does. That’s because Seattle sent two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger to New Orleans in March in the trade that added Graham to the Seahawks’ recently meager passing game.
Lemuel Jeanpierre, Unger’s backup for most of the past five seasons, was the first-string center for the majority of the team’s 10 organized team activities (OTAs) over the past three weeks. Patrick Lewis was usually the second center; Cable likes the 2014 waiver pickup from Green Bay so much he elevated him over Jeanpierre to start games last season when Unger was hurt. Last week to end OTAs, Cable had Drew Nowak, a 2014 practice-squad guard, as the first-team center.
And there’s Cable’s experiment of converting rookie sixth-round draft choice Kristjan Sokoli to center. Sokoli was a defensive tackle at the University of Buffalo six months ago. Cable is trying to have the same success with the native of Albania as he had converting J.R. Sweezy from defensive tackle to Seattle’s starting guard in 2012.
The Seahawks drafted two more offensive linemen, San Diego State left tackle Terry Poole and West Virginia right guard Mark Glowinski, in the fourth round last month. Cable said they can play center, too.
That’s potentially a half-dozen candidates to start at the communications hub of the offensive line when the games get real Sept. 13 at St. Louis.
“Yeah, I think it’s probably the most competition,” Cable said. “Drew’s doing a nice job. Sokoli’s doing a nice job. Lem and Patrick are competing their rear ends off. So when we get to camp, it should be quite a battle.
“That certainly has the most uncertainty.”
It definitely is the key to the line and thus much of the offense in 2015.
Cable also needs to find a new left guard to replace James Carpenter, who signed with the New York Jets in March. Alvin Bailey has lost 20 pounds in his bid to win that job over Poole.
“He’s much more mature,” Cable said of Bailey, an undrafted free agent signed in 2013. “I think his grasp of what we’re doing has shown up at a much higher level, which is his confidence, obviously. And he’s in great shape, which is really, really good to see.”
You don’t need to be inside the Seahawks’ meeting rooms to know the offensive line’s troubles the past two seasons. Wilson has often made brilliant, game-changing plays while improvising, as his blockers have failed to provide him consistent protection.
Unger was the epitome of a “glue guy,” a poised, studied veteran who kept Seattle’s line synchronized. He had a unique relationship and understanding with his quarterback. For as much as he was injured — Unger missed 10 games last season and three the year before — he made the offense far better and smoother when he was in there. That was especially true in zone run blocking for Lynch. Unger usually nailed his pre-snap calls. When Unger was hurt last year Wilson had to take on that blocking-audible responsibility. When that happened, the entire offense suffered.
Now Unger is a Saint. In more ways than one, Cable said. He is still praising Unger for being a quality person first while a Seahawk for six years.
“Well, you always try to make your team better. I think that’s what we have done such a fantastic job of, (there’s) great trust in John (Schneider, the general manager) and (coach) Pete (Carroll),” Cable said. “When they bring these discussions up, there’s always a good purpose for it. Knowing where we’re headed and the youth and maybe what was available to us in the draft, it was the right thing to do.
“We lost a really good man and a really good player. But that’s football.”
Now the offense’s top priority is to find his replacement, one that not only can block, but also provide a semblance of the knowledge, chemistry and poise Unger provided. It’s a tall task — and not because Sokoli is 6-foot-5.
It’s obvious listening to Cable for the last month and throughout last season he really likes Jeanpierre’s experience, Lewis’ strength, Sokoli’s athleticism, Poole’s size and versatility and Glowinski’s speed.
Nowak remains an unknown. He wasn’t even on the active roster after Seattle signed him as a free agent last season. He’s 6-3, 292 pounds, a fourth-year veteran from Western Michigan (who happens to be from GM Schneider’s home area of Green Bay, Wisconsin, by the way).
Last week during OTA practice No. 8 Nowak and Wilson messed up a snap during a scrimmage with the offense backed up on its own 1-yard line. The result was a fumble in the end zone. There were also four false starts in that part of the practice, prompting veteran wide receiver Doug Baldwin to berate his teammates to get it together.
Jeanpierre’s experience — starting parts of multiple seasons while Unger was hurt, plus his familiarity with Wilson and with Cable’s blocking system — seems to give him the edge heading into the exhibition season. Seattle re-signed him this spring as a free agent with the idea he could be Unger’s replacement. But Cable picked the shorter, more powerful Lewis over Jeanpierre in November and December, when the Seahawks absolutely had to win to overtake Arizona to win the NFC West and secure home-field advantage in the postseason again. If Cable picked Lewis then, he might again.
As for the other candidates: When Carroll was asked in April if a rookie could come in and run Seattle’s offensive system and line, the head man acknowledged that would be difficult. But he didn’t rule it out.
However it settles, Cable thinks it will happen sooner into August than later.
“I would say sometime in the preseason,” he said.
“If you’re saying that in terms of camp, yes. When? Who knows? I think it’s going to show up pretty quickly though.”
Thursday’s is the only practice of the minicamp because the NFL last summer docked the Seahawks their two other on-field days this week and fined them $300,000 after it ruled the team was too physical in offseason workouts last year.
Will that stunt Cable’s progress in mixing and matching to find his latest O-line concoction?
“I think any time you don’t get to practice, you probably lose something,” he said.
“But you all see how we work and we get a lot more done than most.”