Seattle Seahawks

New Seahawks offensive line coach means a new way of drafting blockers. Or does it?

New Seattle Seahawks offensive line coach Mike Solari, right, coached with the team from 2008-2009. He replaces Tom Cable.
New Seattle Seahawks offensive line coach Mike Solari, right, coached with the team from 2008-2009. He replaces Tom Cable.

left tackle Duane Brown said Thursday. "We've got a lot of guys returning. We've got a new addition with (free-agent right guard) D.J. Fluker. I think everyone was starting to jell towards the end of last season."

Last season? That’s a very low bar.

Five of the league-leading 16 linemen the Seahawks drafted when Cable coached them never started a game for the team (Terry Poole, Garrett Scott, Kristjan Sokoli, Justin Senior, Ryan Seymour). Three others started fewer than nine games for the Seahawks (Michael Bowie, Rees Odhiambo, Joey Hunt). Thus, half the offensive linemen Seattle has drafted the last seven years has had scant or zero impact.

"Don't get me wrong: We haven't made some great decisions, the best decisions we could possibly make in certain situations," Schneider said of Seattle's recent drafts.

Then the GM added: "I don't think anybody does."

Cable was also, by practice not official title, Seattle's running-game coordinator. That wasn't working lately, either. The Seahawks went from a perennial top-five rushing offense through 2015 — running back Marshawn Lynch's last with the team —to 25th in 2016 and 23rd last season. And that 23rd was only because of quarterback Russell Wilson's team-leading 586 rushing yards, more than 80 percent of which came off scrambles.

You've got to understand, the offensive line right now, in football, period, it's a very hard situation," Schneider said.

"Some of the NBA guys I talk to say it's like talking about finding bigs. 'Where are the 'bigs at?' I think that's very similar to the trend that we are in right now in the National Football League with all the spread offenses, and guys being recruited in eighth grade. Recruited like as a seventh grader and stuff, and they are like 'OK, you want to play defensive line or offensive line? You want to do a sack dance or make a great block in the run game?' Right? What are you going to do?"

Enter Solari.

Cable, 10 years Solari's junior, believes in the zone-blocking scheme that emphasizes angles and athleticism, timing and subtlety.

The 63-year-old Solari is no subtlety, all toughness. Go block your guy.

Mike Holmgren hired Solari to be the Seahawks’ offensive line coach in 2008, and again in 2009 when Jim Mora retained Solari on his staff. Solari is a protege of Bobb McKittrick, the legendary, five-time Super Bowl-winning 49ers line coach.

How tough and no-nonsense was McKittrick? In the late 1990s the former Marine coached through liver cancer.

When San Francisco hired Solari in 2010 after he left the Seahawks, he told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat about his 49ers linemen: “They’re gonna play with an attitude.”

Three years later, while still with the Niners on his way to the Super Bowl, Solari said: “We do want to pound you.”

Solari has been known to teach what some have called "power zone blocking." That features more man-up, drive blocking. He’s liked big, road grader-like guards inside, with some zone-blocking principles at center and outside with quicker, athletic tackles.

Fluker, signed last month from the New York Giants where Solari was his line coach last season, is a big, road grader guard inside. His listed 6-5 and 345 pounds doesn't accurately portray what the 27-year-old Fluker looks like in person.

Seattle drafted only one lineman in Solari's previous two years as its line coach. It was a good one: center Max Unger out of Oregon in 2009. Unger became a two-time Pro Bowl center with the Seahawks before they traded him to New Orleans in 2015 to get tight end Jimmy Graham.

But all indications are Solari will take a more traditional line-coach role than Cable. The front office, head coach and scouts will be drafting blockers with Solari's input but relatively less authority, and Solari coaching what he's given.

Of the five offensive linemen Seattle has drafted in the first four rounds since 2015, only the fifth, Pocic in the second round last year, can be considered something of a success. And he's started only 11 games in his career.

“Before getting recruited to Humboldt," Cappa said, "I had never heard of it.”

The 6-7, 305-pound Cappa has flowing, brownish-blond hair down. He looks like a Lumberjack, Humboldt's mascot.

cappa.jpg
Guard-tackle Alex Cappa is a week away from likely being the first player from Humboldt State taken in the NFL draft since 1990, and only the fourth one ever. He has the size, athleticism and versatility the Seahawks like. And he'll be available in the later rounds, where Seattle has six of its eight picks. Gregg Bell/The News Tribune Gregg Bell/The News Tribune

And he's renowned for having a nasty edge on the field — at least as renowned as a guy from Humboldt State can be.

He can play guard and tackle. His draft stock has been rising since an impressive performance at the Senior Bowl all-star game in January against the big-school boys.

"You really have to be able to play everything, from tackle and guard, like I have, to even center," Cappa said. "You only carry seven or eight offensive linemen, so it’s important to be versatile. And I think that’s what teams are really stressing."

He redshirted his first year because he had only played offensive line for one season in high school. Four consecutive full seasons as a starter with 43 games later, Cappa was a Division-II All-America. He credits his strength coach at Humboldt State for giving him his first formal weight-training and fitness program.

Also good for Seattle, which has six of its eight picks in rounds five and seven: Cappa is likely to be around in the later rounds.

He's considered a better run blocker than pass protector right now. Even better for the 2018 Seahawks.

How fantastic is this for Cappa, coming from Humboldt to the cusp of the NFL?

“It’s cool. It definitely gives you a different perspective and a different appreciation," he said. "It’s not something that people really expect coming from a place like that. So it gives you a chip on your shoulder and really a different perspective on the whole experience.”

A chip on his shoulder? Another quality Carroll and the Seahawks love.

"The experiences that you go through, you have to hold yourself to a higher standard, because you’re not always held to a higher standard," he said of entering the NFL from Humboldt or any lower-division program. "So you have to put it on yourself and put in extra work that maybe isn’t expected of you. It also gives you a chip on your shoulder, too. You had all these schools that didn’t want you coming out—(again) I only had one offer—and now I proved I can play with anybody.

"It’s good to show that no matter where you’re coming from, it’s what you do with it."

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