It’s a fan’s way to worry, to scan the horizon for lurking icebergs.
These days, when they examine the path of the 2014 Seattle Seahawks, if there’s a group most likely to be deemed the weakest link, the one area of grim reality in the post-Super Bowl euphoria, the unanimous concern is the offensive line.
And that’s fair enough. A good portion of the rushing yards gained last season came on the efforts of Marshawn Lynch after the holes already had been slammed shut. And quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked more per pass play than anybody in the NFL — numbers that would have been worse if he weren’t so elusive.
The two talents with Pro Bowls on their résumés, center Max Unger and left tackle Russell Okung, missed good portions of last season to injury. Okung required foot surgery in the offseason and still isn’t back to full health.
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As it stood Sunday, the starting line from left to right was Alvin Bailey, James Carpenter, Unger, J.R. Sweezy and Justin Britt.
That’s two mostly unknown tackles and two mostly unproven guards flanking the back-to-health Unger.
Yes, the Seahawks have what could be an historically strong defensive unit. But how far the offense will contribute to another postseason of champagne and confetti will be determined by the growth and development of this offensive line.
There are reasons to entrust their schooling to line coach Tom Cable, a quality teacher with a surprisingly calm demeanor and a number of interesting techniques.
Even during the early practice bag drills, Cable has them paired and aligned so they can cycle through their reps in a rapid-fire tempo that stresses their lungs and their minds. The goal? To get them used to playing fast and thinking fast.
Unger’s return to health lifts the entire line because he’s responsible for managing the assignments and responsibilities at the line. Looking strong once again, Unger did a nice job in pass protection drills Sunday against the stout Brandon Mebane, who often seems unblockable in these one-on-one situations.
But they already know what they have in Unger. It’s the others who bear closer scrutiny.
Bailey, holding down left tackle until Okung returns, must be able to get a quick drop to cut off speed rushers trying to beat him around the edge. Sunday, he was solid on consecutive tries against both Cliff Avril and Benson Mayowa.
Much of the talk in camp has been how Carpenter is leaner and playing with great energy. Absolutely true. He not only won against Kevin Williams and Jordan Hill, but he stonewalled massive Tony McDaniel.
“James is playing at a really high level right now,” Cable said of Carpenter, whose weight is down to 327. “His confidence is very high. He’s doing everything right, exactly what the system asks of him. So we’re getting his quickness — from a large human — and we’re getting that power, too, which is really cool.”
At right guard, Sweezy has added some good “weight-room” pounds that will help him against the bull rushes of the big defensive tackles, Cable said.
“He’s been very noticeable in terms of knocking people back and being able to stop the pass rush,” Cable said. “That’s a positive thing that gives you confidence.”
An example came in pass protection this weekend, when rookie rusher Jackson Jeffcoat crossed his face and Sweezy got under his pads and launched him.
Cable said the young players are raw, as expected. But he loves the efforts of Britt, who’s getting a lot of time at right tackle with Michael Bowie out because of a sore shoulder.
On a two-play series Sunday, Britt was beaten by Avril on a speed rush, but he came back with better technique to handle O’Brien Schofield on the same move the next play.
“He’s an aggressive mauler and finisher who is going to play at a very high level of intensity,” Cable said of Britt. “Nothing that I’ve seen is too big for him, so that’s a pretty strong-minded young guy.”
When comparing Britt with departed starting right tackle Breno Giacomini, Cable says the rookie offers some of the same qualities but is “maybe a little more athletic.”
Getting Okung and Bowie back to health, Cable said, is crucial to finding out exactly where this group stands.
In the meantime, they will benefit from having to practice against the best defense in the National Football League on a daily basis, and also from getting coached by one of the best line coaches in the business.