Pete Carroll is fed up with Germain Ifedi.
At least he was on Saturday.
The coach who has already declared Ifedi must in 2018 reduce his NFL-leading amount of penalties from last season ordered his starting right tackle out of the Seahawks’ annual mock game five days before the preseason opener.
That was after Ifedi committed a false-start penalty. Then the crew of NFL officials led by referee and Lake Tapps resident Craig Wrolstad visiting Seahawks training camp called Ifedi for holding. Carroll sent Ifedi off in the middle of the starting offense’s drive against the second-team defense. Fourth-year veteran Isaiah Battle replaced him.
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New offensive line coach Mike Solari then had an extended conversation with Ifedi as the scrimmage continued without him.
“He had a couple penalties today. Yeah, I was real disappointed in that,” Carroll said Saturday.
“Real disappointed in that.”
Ifedi committed 20 penalties in 16 games last season, his first as Seattle’s starting right tackle. The team moved him back to his college position at Texas A&M after his mostly failing rookie season of 2016 inside at right guard. His 20 flags in 2017 were seven more than any other player in the league.
Nine were for false starts. He often tried to get a head start on the snap, to get outside more quickly to meet faster opposing edge pass rushers. Honestly, Ifedi could have been called for at least a half-dozen false starts per game, if not per half, in his first two years in the league. He repeatedly got out of his stance a half-tick or more before the snap. Often, officials don’t notice it. Or they ignored it.
When he didn’t get out to edge pass rushers quickly enough last season, he often held them. He was called for holding eight times. Some of those fouls also came when quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled outside of Ifedi and was easily free to run for gains down the field, but Ifedi did not let go of grabbing his defender as Wilson ran past.
Carroll’s been tiring of Ifedi’s flags since at least November. The coach vented after Ifedi’s holding foul was one of 16 accepted penalties against the Seahawks in a galling, 17-14 home loss to Washington. That defeat ultimately helped doom Seattle out of the playoffs for the first time in six years.
“He is one that has not really nailed the sense of, when Russell is getting out on his side he’s got to release,” Carroll said Nov. 17. “But he has had his share and it’s definitely a point of emphasis that has been there for some time now.
“It’s disappointing that we aren’t fixing this faster,” Carroll said.
It’s still not fixed.
Solari said last month the 6-foot-5 Ifedi needs to play lower coming off the ball. It’s one of the fundamentals the new line coach has been drilling into his right tackle and every other Seahawks blocker this spring and summer.
“He’s trying to get the technique and fundamentals down,” Solari said of Ifedi. “A big man like that, the key thing is leverage, being able to bend your knees. Sometimes as a big offensive linemen, you get a little bit sloppy and rely on strength, and you don’t bend and play with leverage. This game’s about leverage. Guys are so quick, you have to have your knees bent so you can react and adjust off of movement, and things you need to do at the second level.”
Ifedi has also had a trend of fouls for discipline and attitude in games. He was flagged for unnecessary roughness twice last season, and taunting once. Sometimes it seemed officials were forming a reputation about him—and not a good one.
He also got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct during his rookie season of 2016. That was one of the seven penalties called on him in all in his debut season when he was playing inside. So, yes, 27 penalties in two seasons.
Former teammate Cliff Avril, the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl defensive end who had to retire this spring because of a neck injury, said last month in one of his first days in his new job as a co-host on Seattle’s KJR-AM sports-talk radio the 24-year-old Ifedi has a sense of entitlement that is holding him back from excelling in the NFL.
“Most players nowadays, they have this attitude of feeling like everything should be given to ’em,” Avril said on KJR in mid-July while discussing Ifedi. “That’s what his approach has been the past few years, and I think that’s why he hasn’t taken that next step.”
At least one current teammate hasn’t thought much of Ifedi, either. Last summer early in Seahawks training camp defensive end Frank Clark leaped into a scuffle between defensive and offensive linemen during a pass-rush drill and punched Ifedi in the face. Ifedi stayed face-down on the grass for a moment after the punch from the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Clark. Trainers eventually assisted Ifedi to his feet. The 325-pound tackle bled in the area near his mouth and missed the next few practices.
Carroll suspended Clark for a few practice days after the fight between the team’s top draft choices in 2015 and ‘16.
Will he bench Ifedi, starting in practice Monday? Or for Thursday’s preseason opener against Indianapolis?
What are his options?
Battle is the former Kansas City Chief the Seahawks traded for last August. He’s been on two teams’ active rosters during regular seasons; he was on the Rams’ for part of 2015. But he’s yet to play in an NFL regular-season game. Seattle agreed to send a conditional seventh-round pick to Kansas City to acquire Battle last summer. But Battle did not play in a game in 2017, so the Seahawks didn’t meet the threshold required for the Chiefs to get that pick. This offseason, Battle signed a futures contract to be on Seattle’s 90-man offseason and now preseason roster.
The Seahawks have another tackle, one who has starting experience in the NFL. One who is now healthy again to compete for a job.
Remember George Fant?
Seahawks general manager John Schneider and then Carroll said this offseason they intended to move Fant from left tackle to right tackle this year. That’s because Seattle traded for four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown from Houston in October, two months after the plan to have Fant start the 2017 at left tackle ended with Fant’s reconstructive knee surgery. The Seahawks last week re-signed Brown for three years and up to $36.5 million, so Brown’s remaining the left tackle.
Fant returned last week to full-pads practicing. He was Brown’s backup at left tackle in Saturday’s mock game. Solari and Carroll want to start Fant’s return in the spot he’s more familiar; the former college basketball power forward at Western Kentucky was Cable’s choice as surprise starter at left tackle for 10 games as an undrafted rookie in 2016, during Fant’s first months in the sport.
Fant said Brown, the 11-year veteran, has taught him so much in these last few months while he rehabilitated his knee, about fundamentals and technique.
How much thought has Fant given to playing right tackle, since his path to playing at left tackle is obviously blocked by Brown?
“I’m going to do what they ask me to do,” he said this past week. “I do my job, which is just play as hard as I can. I’m going to get my game back. It doesn’t matter, either side. Wherever they want to put me at, wherever I can help the team, that’s what I am going to do.”
If Ifedi’s benching Saturday and Carroll’s reaction to it afterward are any hints, Fant may be doing it at right tackle. Soon.
The competition is seemingly on.
“With Germain, he’s working hard, just like the other men,” Solari said. “We’re getting better. We’re getting better. We got to keep building.
“Coach Carroll—you guys know better than I do—it’s about competition. It’s about competing.
“The best five start.”