The Seahawks’ offensive line remains unsettled.
Left tackle Bradley Sowell grabbed Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett by both shoulders in a no-pads, pass-rushing drill during practice Sunday — then slammed Bennett onto his back. That started the latest and biggest fight Bennett has had in his summer full of dust-ups.
An hour later, line coach Tom Cable said Garry Gilliam, the starter at right tackle for the first two preseason games, will get more time at left tackle where he’d been playing from May to August.
Cable also said the team needs to see J’Marcus Webb play in a game at right tackle before it settles on five starting blockers. Webb is expected to play right tackle Thursday in Seattle’s third preseason game against Dallas.
Asked when he needs to have his starting line set, Cable said: “What day’s the first game? September 11. I just think that we have a lot of work to do between now and then to make that decision.
“Quite honestly, it would really be premature to say, ‘This guy should do this or this guy should do that,’ because we don’t know. We haven’t even seen Webb play yet. It looks like we’re going to this week, so I think until we can evaluate that, it’s really difficult to give you that answer.”
Meanwhile, Bennett rages on.
“He’s a passionate guy,” coach Pete Carroll said. “And we got him riled up today.”
In the players’ return to practice after two days off the field, Bennett didn’t like Sowell putting pass rusher Josh Shirley on the ground during that pass-protection drill. Bennett jumped in to take the next snap. Sowell, who had gone out, re-entered to face Bennett. After the snap, Sowell just about tackled him, drawing a flag from one of the referees the team hires to officiate practices. Sowell then slammed Bennett to the ground.
Bennett got to his feet without his helmet and charged at Sowell, throwing punches at the tackle’s helmet that was still on his head. Teammates and coaches, including Cable, intervened. When Doug Baldwin came down the field from passing drills and got to Bennett alone seconds later, Bennett went after the No. 1 wide receiver. Bennett then threw his helmet about 10 yards.
Carroll came over to talk to Bennett, who did not participate in the rest of practice.
Later, Bennett and Sowell walked off the field into the locker room side by side. Bennett was calmly talking to Sowell and eventually smiling.
Anyone with ears knows Bennett has been vocally unhappy about his contract that has two years remaining. The Seahawks have yet to show a willingness to do anything more than listen to his grievances rather than renegotiate, so as to not set the precedent of re-doing any deal that has multiple years remaining. Bennett had a career-high 10 sacks last season, has spent most games in the opposing backfield the past two seasons as an outside end and inside rush tackle — and is the 27th-highest paid defensive end in the league.
Bennett doesn’t like the protection the Seahawks — and pretty much every football team above middle school these days — afford quarterbacks and running backs when they have the ball in practices. Linemen get no safeguards. They do daily, hand-to-hand (and often head-to-head) combat each snap with or without pads.
Bennett is also testing Seattle’s offensive line. It could have new starters in all five positions this season and is nowhere near settled, three weeks before the regular season begins. Rookie guard Germain Ifedi stood up to Bennett after plays earlier in camp this month. Bennett has also gotten into it with left guard Mark Glowinski and new center Justin Britt.
Bennett may also be frustrated by barely playing this preseason. He stood on the sidelines in team workout gear during the exhibition opener at Kansas City; Carroll said the defensive end was ill. The Seahawks pulled him out of Thursday’s second preseason game against Minnesota after the game’s second play.
In other words, there is a lot igniting Bennett’s fire right now.
“He’s got a lot of pride,” Carroll said. “He’s an incredible competitor. But he’s got to make sure he stays poised so he doesn’t get in trouble. And so we got a good illustration of that today.”
Asked if he sensed Bennett may be frustrated also by not playing much so far this preseason, Carroll said: “Maybe, yeah. Do I sense any frustration? I don’t know if I answered the question. Maybe that’s part of it.
“There’s a lot riding on this season for our whole football team, and we have to deal with that. We have really high expectations. That can heighten the passion and the intensity and all of that. That’s kind of something that we are kind of used to around here.”
Webb hasn’t had much of a chance to know.
The offensive tackle signed with Seattle as a free agent from Oakland this spring, a two-year contract that guarantees him $2.75 million. Then three days before the first preseason game on Aug. 13, Webb sprained his right knee. He’s been wearing a brace and heavy tape on it since, but the former starting tackle with the Raiders and Chicago Bears was back practicing Sunday.
Webb playing right tackle could mean Gilliam goes back to left tackle against the Cowboys for the preseason game on Thursday.
Cable said it’s not so late in the preseason that the Seahawks won’t get looks at Gilliam at left tackle again before the regular season.
“No. Oh, no. No. We’re not done with any of that,” Cable said. “You’re going to see a lot of different things this week before it’s over with.”
The Seahawks’ line seems set inside. Glowinski drove Minnesota defensive tackle Tom Johnson 5 yards off the ball onto his back during a 10-yard run by Christine Michael on the game’s first drive last week. Britt has handled the transition from former right tackle and left guard to center maybe better than the coaches expected. Ifedi, the rookie first-round draft choice, was a star of training camp.
There is still the curious situation of having a 10-year veteran and four-time All-Pro as a backup right guard with seemingly nowhere to play him.
What about Jahri Evans, who was signed this month after a decade with New Orleans? He’s been as low as third-string in practices and two preseason games.
“He plays right guard,” Cable said. “He is tremendously gifted in terms of his experience and his knowledge and all that.
“So, he’s in there battling right now.”
He’s not the only one, as Bennett’s fight with Sowell showed.
EXTRA POINTS: The team re-signed 2015 fullback Will Tukuafu and released former Washington Huskies fullback Jonathan Amosa. Amosa had been one of a handful of fullbacks, tight ends and even defensive linemen Seattle has tried this preseason as a blocking back. Carroll said what Tukuafu did the past two seasons for the Seahawks was better than any of the recent trial players. Tukuafu tried out for the Seahawks two weeks ago and said he’d been home in Utah with his family waiting on a call since. … Rookie second-round pick Jarran Reed has “a sore toe,” Carroll said, on top of an ankle injury. The starting defensive tackle’s date of return is unknown. … Rookie tight end Nick Vannett has a high-ankle sprain but feels surprisingly fair, Carroll said. … Thomas Rawls (ankle) was full go with the starting offense. Rawls and the team don’t see any reason he won’t be the lead back for the opener. … Carroll said he expects rookie running back C.J. Prosise to practice Monday. The expected third-down back strained his hamstring July 30.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle