Last year, it was hand size. The combine was dominated by talk of hand size of the two quarterbacks who ultimately became the two top picks in the draft.
This year’s NFL combine, the discussion has turned to the hands of college offensive linemen. More specifically, it’s where their hands are positioned before the snap.
That’s not on the ground. And that leaves this league — and especially the Seahawks, who are desperate for quality blockers — somewhat up in the air.
Many college linemen who completed their on-field workouts inside Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday have spent their last three and four years in stand-up, two-point stances inside the spread offenses that proliferate the NCAA.
For linemen, three is the magic number in the NFL. As in, a three-point stance.
“I think we are seeing more now than ever the accumulation of years of guys being in spread offenses and two-point stances all the time, that it does not lend itself to guys coming off the football,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said inside the Indiana Convention Center.
“But there are plenty of programs — maybe not enough — but there are plenty of programs in college football that still run the football with an attitude and an approach much more like what we do. And those guys are valuable to us.”
Programs such as Wisconsin, Stanford and, to a lesser degree, multiple-scheme Alabama.
That’s why the Seahawks are here closely watching Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk and Alabama tackle Cam Robinson. Last season, Robinson won the Outland Trophy as college football’s best interior offensive lineman.
Whether either will be around when the Seahawks are scheduled to pick in the first round of April’s draft, at 26th overall, is another matter. The market has, for years, been overheated on NFL-ready offensive linemen that have experience playing in pro-style — or at least not exclusively spread — offenses.
“We know that there is a process that guys have to go through this transition and depending on where they come from and what their style of coaching was and their play style,” Carroll said.
Germain Ifedi is going through that transition now. The Seahawks made him their first-round pick last year after he spent three years as a tackle standing upright in a two-point stance in Texas A&M’s spread offense. Ifedi estimated he had maybe 50 snaps in three seasons with the Aggies in a three-point stance. He began focusing on firing off the ball with his hand on the ground almost as soon as his sweat dried from his final college game.
Now he’s entrenched as Seattle’s starting right guard, where he started his entire rookie season. Getting used to being in a three-point stance is one of the many adjustments he’s continuing to make entering year two.
“We take all of that into account,” Carroll said. “It’s a factor. More so than ever, guys could spend their whole high school career and whole college career and never get in a stance and that’s something we have to train guys to transition to do.”
This “dearth” of NFL-ready blockers, as Seahawks general manager John Schneider described it, is why Carroll and Schneider emphasized the need for continuity with the blockers who already have time developing in offensive line coach Tom Cable’s system.
In particular, Carroll wants to see how much George Fant grows from being the surprise starter at left tackle last season as an undrafted rookie from Western Kentucky.
“He played less than anybody (before the NFL),” Carroll said. “So hopefully he’ll make a big jump for us.”
But this offseason Seattle can also deal more in free agency for linemen. The team has $26 million in salary-cap space. That is far more than at this time last season.
Carroll said Seattle was going to be aggressive once the free-agent market opens Thursday. Schneider said the Seahawks want to add an accomplished, experienced blocker once free agency begins Thursday, to have a better option than tackles J’Marcus Webb (eventually cut) and Bradley Sowell (benched twice, now a free agent) were last season.
Cable, Carroll and Schneider like the inside three as their line’s core. Justin Britt excelled last season as a first-time center, after his first two seasons as the starting right tackle and left guard. Mark Glowinski is anchored and only two years into his rookie contract at left guard. Ifedi, the team’s feisty first-round pick last spring, is entrenched at right guard.
But it became clear listening to Carroll and Schneider in the first days of the combine this past week that Seattle does not intend to stand pat at tackle for 2017.
When asked what he’s looking for in offensive linemen this offseason, Carroll went global.
“Regardless of the position, we are looking for competition. We are looking to make the guys that are on our roster better — if guys can take their jobs, then we got better,” Carroll said. “There’s no place where we don’t look for that, so wherever we can make the roster more competitive, we know we are getting better.
“So if we can find a guy that can start, that would be great. If we can find a guy who can push the guys that are there that’s really what we’d expect to happen. We expect for that to happen across the board … a chance to get more competitive (is) what we are always after.”
ROSS’ RECORD SPEED
John Ross is a man of his word.
Friday inside the Indiana Convention Center, the former Washington Huskies’ wide receiver said he was going for Chris Johnson’s NFL combine record of 4.24 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Johnson set that mark in 2008.
Saturday, across the street inside Lucas Oil Stadium, Ross got it. He ran the 40 in 4.22 seconds.
Johnson reacted on Twitter by posting googling eyes and: “He picking em up n putting em down boi”.
And get this: “I feel like I could have run faster,” Ross told NFL Network on the field afterward. “I cramped up at the end.”
“But,” he said with a grin and a shrug, “I’m thankful.”
He should be. That sound you may be hearing from Indianapolis is cash registers ringing for Ross.
He was the buzz of this combine even before his epic sprint. Many believed he would be among the first 15 players selected in April’s draft. That would mean tens of millions of dollars with guarantees after two knee surgeries cost him his 2015 junior season at UW.
Now, this, the fastest 40 ever recorded at the NFL’s scouting summit, in a league and position that values speed as the ultimate weapon against a defense’s press coverages and pass rushers.
Ross also showed his explosiveness in the broad jump with a leap of 11 feet, 1 inch. That is the fifth farthest jump at the combine since 2003.
Even with shoulder surgery scheduled for March 14 — Ross said Friday the recovery will take months but he will “definitely” be ready for the start of the NFL season in September — yeah, his decision this winter to leave UW following his junior season is about to pay off.
Former Bellarmine Prep High School star Michael Rector also had a fast 40 time at the combine. The wide receiver out of Stanford was clocked in 4.42 seconds, tied for fifth at his position.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle