When J.R. Sweezy arrived in Seattle as a newly fledged offensive guard, he wasn’t just learning an NFL blocking scheme, and developing the wherewithal to forestall NFL pass rushers, or uproot mammoth NFL defensive tackles on run plays.
He first had to master the three-point stance, and learn how the snap-count worked. It was as if being thrust into doctoral-level classes without having taken Guard 101.
The Seahawks used a final-round draft pick of 2012 on Sweezy as an athletic defensive tackle who might develop as a guard in the long run.
But Sweezy was given no choice but to ripen quickly, having now started 23 games in his first two years in Seattle.
After his very public, and sometimes shaky, indoctrination, Sweezy is now in his third season and showing why GM John Schneider and line coach Tom Cable envisioned him as an offensive lineman.
“He’s matured as an offensive lineman,” Cable said. “He never had his hand on the ground (in an offensive stance); he figured it out last year and now he’s playing like he’s been there forever. The instincts are kicking in for him now. He’s seeing things early, with quick recognition.”
The understanding of the position now allows Sweezy’s raw athleticism and power to be put to productive use.
Early in camp, Cable said it was noticeable how Sweezy was blowing people off the line of scrimmage with his power, and staying in front of pass rushers with his quickness.
An example of both came in one pass-protection drill against linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat, who tried an inside move against Sweezy, only to get stopped and then launched into the air with Sweezy’s arm extension.
And while his performances last season were generally charted somewhere along the predictably steep learning curve, Sweezy developed into an impressive run blocker through the late stages of the season and into the playoffs.
When the Seahawks opened the preseason at Denver, Sweezy was the lone healthy starter from last season manning his spot on the offensive front. At least temporarily, he was the “dean” of Seahawk offensive linemen.
“It was pretty crazy, but I just feel more comfortable and more aware of all the situations and possibilities,” he said. “I finally feel I have a grasp of what all those things are.”
Cable pointed out that Sweezy has added some good “weight-room” weight. And Sweezy verified that he’s now in the 310-pound neighborhood, having added nearly 15 pounds of muscle since arriving from North Carolina State.
“A lot of eating and a lot of working out,” he explained of his bulk. “I feel more like an offensive lineman now.”
Justin Ross Sweezy was a former high school state heavyweight wrestling champion who was considered a draftable defensive tackle at N.C. State. Against Clemson in 2010, for instance, he had 10 tackles, four for losses, two sacks and a forced fumble.
And when scouts looked at him, they saw a player who was a lean 295 with an impressive 36-inch vertical leap. But Schneider saw the makings of a guard.
Cable was sent to work him out, and to ask him an important question: How do you feel about playing guard? In essence, Sweezy said he was willing to do whatever they wanted.
“All I wanted was a chance, and I was blessed enough to get one and I was going to make the best of it,” Sweezy said.
The chances came quickly, as he got five starts as a rookie, including playoffs, and then was the regular for 18 games last season, having beaten out John Moffitt for the right guard spot in training camp.
“I got thrown to the wolves, for sure, had a trial by fire,” he said. “But I felt my way around. Run blocking was easier; having been a defensive lineman I could come off the ball and drive people. But pass blocking was so different; you’ve got to have a little finesse and have to understand how defensive players play. There’s a lot to getting the techniques right. But I’m finally at the point where I’m comfortable.”
With starters Russell Okung, Max Unger and James Carpenter missing a combined 18 games last season, the offensive line was considered the least reliable unit on the World Champion Seahawks.
Those three are back in the lineup, though, along with a matured Sweezy.
“I believe we’re going to be a dominant force,” Sweezy said of the line. “We’re going to play our style of football – downhill, whistle-to-whistle, and it should be exciting to watch and fun to play.”