A couple Seahawks declined to stop, but D.J. Fluker stopped. And he did so with a smile for a visiting Brazilian television crew covering this weekend’s game in England.
Of course Fluker smiled.
Seattle’s new starting right guard is not only perhaps the most massive man the team has employed—as in, ever—Fluker is also gracious, affable, enthusiastic.
And, this week, he’s international.
Fluker was on his way back to his room Friday following practice on a soccer pitch at the Seahawks’ links-golf resort in the English countryside here, the team’s home before Sunday’s game in nearby London against Oakland. The TV guys wanted Fluker to pose with Brazil’s flag for a shot to send back home.
Fluker did, with the flag bracketed by his gigantic shoulders.
Just like that, Fluker may have gained 200 million new fans in Brazil.
Fluker is all the rage right now for the Seahawks. He’s the life of the locker room with jokes and energy. On the field he’s become respected for how intense he is during games, yet while keeping it light in the huddle between plays.
Fluker might already be one of their most popular players, inside and outside the locker room.
How big an impact has Fluker made to Seattle’s offense in his first months since signing a one-year contract for a minimum of $800,000 as a free agent?
“Huge impact,” Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown. “Fluke, he’s a massive human being first of all.
“Just the passion that he plays with, you don’t see it that often. The fun that he has and the demeanor that he has, it’s needed, not just for our offensive line, but for our locker room in general.
“To have a guy like that, every day he comes with a certain level of energy and just passion for the game. He’s happy to be a part of this. He’s happy to be out there and when he’s out there, he makes his presence felt.”
In particular, the Chargers’ first-round draft choice in 2013 out of Alabama has become a perfect fit for what Seattle’s offense has pivoted to successfully in the last three games. Fluker arrived from the New York Giants, where he played last year for new Seahawks line coach Mike Solari. Fluker was known as a road grader of a drive blocker in the running game while struggling in the more finesse work of pass blocking.
The Seahawks tried to pass more in the first two games of this season. Passed too much, in fact. Throwing the ball 73 percent of the time at Denver and Chicago, quarterback Russell Wilson got sacked an NFL-high 12 times through two weeks. Seattle went 0-2.
Since then, the Seahawks have had three consecutive games with a 100-yard rusher, for the first time since Marshawn Lynch was romping for them in 2012. That has meant an emphasis on what Fluker does best: run blocking. The last three games the offense has been 57 percent run, 43 percent run—and 100 percent working better than it was in mid-September.
During this run-first span the Seahawks have won their first two games of the season and could have won last week’s game against the unbeaten Rams. Seattle lost 33-31 to Los Angeles despite rushing for 190 yards, its most since 2016.
“We’re in a mode of, we’re improving. We’re getting better and they can all feel it,” coach Pete Carroll said Friday of his players. “We have set a style in motion a while back that we have kind of felt like we’re starting to capture now, that makes everybody feel kind of in a good way that we’re moving and we’re getting better.
“We had two off weeks the first two weeks. We didn’t play well. We’ve come back around, feel like we’re finding a little bit and now we need to see if we can keep going. It’s only because, this next week we play, it’s really about playing really tough and physical and running the football well and playing good defensive teams. That’s what we’re trying to get done and we’re aware of that. We were really disappointed that it didn’t contribute to a win last week, but we still could feel the style so that’s important to us and we’re going to try and make a big push here through the middle of the season.”
That means continuing to feature and rely on Fluker.
Fluker became even more popular with his teammates and fans for his comments after the narrow loss to the Rams. With anger in his eyes and voice, he said it was bogus for officials to penalize him for holding on a running play that pushed the Seahawks back to midfield and out of range for a game-winning field goal try. Fluker said the call cost Seattle the game. He said the Rams were “lucky” to win.
Fluker also said this about his constant woofing and shoving with the Rams’ Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald after plays last weekend: “I mean, it’s football. I told the ref, I said it’s going to be a gang fight today. It’s going to be a hard fight. They’re going to play hard, we’re going to play hard. At the end of the day, we’ve got to play harder.
“The thing about it is everybody gets terrified with 99 (Donald) and 93 (Suh). We weren’t terrified. We weren’t scared. We’re offensive linemen. We’re built to do this. We go out there and grind every single day.”
His is the kind of attitude and mean streak Seattle’s offensive line has lacked while struggling for years.
Fluker and his new, physical guard partner J.R. Sweezy (who has taken Ethan Pocic’s starting job at left guard) have become quite prominent for the Seahawks recently. So much so, Carroll was asked Friday by a member of the European media who obviously follows the team more than geography would suggest about the potential of the team keeping Fluker and Sweezy beyond the one-year, low-cost, no-risk contracts each signed this spring.
“Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely,” Carroll said.
“We feel like we have the core of a group that can really make a difference. I felt this before and I’ve talked about it before in years past: When you sense that the core is there, now it’s time to build around that and fortify that. As we have done in the past, we would like to move in that direction, if possible.
“It’s not always as easy as it sounds. But it’s clear with the young running backs and the guys that really have a flare for the style that we want to play in, that we have a chance to do that.”
That chance is likely to continue against the Raiders.
The forecasting calls for a 90-percent chance of rain in London, down to 25 percent at 6 p.m., the local time for Sunday’s game. That is likely to make an already notoriously sloppy grass field at Wembley Stadium sloppier. That tends to favor running the ball because it is more difficult to make sharp cuts in the passing game with those type of field conditions.
If this becomes a tough-mudder game in London, Fluker is the Seahawks’ toughest mudder to do it.
Fluker became a Seahawks legend this past week, when the players and coached reviewed film of last weekend’s 33-31 loss to the Rams. Fluker pancaked-blocked Suh onto his back on Mike Davis’ 6-yard touchdown run past them in the first half.
Brown said coaches kept playing, playing and re-playing Fluker’s block on Suh.
“At least 10 times. And it never gets old,” Brown said.
“It doesn’t get any better than that. That’s not easy. I’ve got a lot of respect for Suh. You don’t see that happen often.”
Thinking of Fluker being listed at 6-feet-5 and 342 pounds, Brown said: “I don’t know what he’s tipping the scales at, but he makes a lot of people look small out there.
“He plays with a great amount of aggression. I love it. ...I think you saw a few plays, just to point out a few, especially on that run we had where he went against one of the best players in the league and dominated. He can do that over and over.
“I’m glad to have him and we’re glad to have him.”
NEW BOOTS FOR THE FAMOUS PITCH
The potential field conditions at Wembley Stadium for Sunday are such an issue Carroll said his team has planned footwear contingencies since arriving in England on Thursday. Seahawks’ players have been trying out in practices on the grass, converted soccer pitch at their hotel two different styles of boots as options to wear on the pitch for the match.
Safety Bradley McDougald explained he has a pair with standard-length cleats and a second one with longer spikes if he is slipping too much during pregame drills or early in the game.
The Seahawks are scheduled to walk the grounds at Wembley on Saturday to get familar with the famed soccer stadium and its pitch
“I think, from what we understand, Wembley is more worn,” Carroll said of the famed stadium’s turf. “So we’ll have to figure out what that means. But we’ve been working with our footwear here in preparation to make sure that we can adapt quickly when we get on that field.”
The field conditions are also an issue for English “footy” fans. Fans and people from the England customs officer at London’s Heathrow Airport to the city’s cab drivers are talking about how the Seahawks and Raiders are likely to trash the temporary home pitch for Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League.
The Seahawks and Raiders were supposed to play in Tottenham’s new, billion-dollar stadium in North London on Sunday. But issues with the new palace’s security systems have delayed the stadium’s opening.
Wilson says he is honored to be playing in one of the world’s most famous sports stadiums on Sunday.
We’re going to feel the energy on Sunday and we know that. The stadium is going to be pretty loud, it’s going to be exciting to play in of the most historic stadiums of all time in all of sports. It’s an honor to come out here to London and play out here and to be a part of that game and to be a part of the spreading of the game of football, not just for the National Football League, but for the world.”