Without D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy this past Sunday, Russell Wilson was sacked a season-high six times.
Without Fluker the first two games of the season, the Seattle Seahawks started 0-2 and were searching for an offensive identity.
Remember when they didn’t have him last year? They had the fewest combined rushing yards by their running backs of any team in the NFL and were among the worst in NFL history. With Fluker this season they are the top rushing team in the league.
The Seahawks’ offensive line success isn’t just because of Fluker. But his impact has been huge — and not just because the 27-year-old is 6-feet-5 and 342 pounds.
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“We feel it when he’s not there sometimes,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “He adds a physical nature, but I think almost more importantly than that, he brings a competitive fire to the (offense).”
Fluker may have found a home in Seattle. Signed to a one-year, $1.4 million bargain contract before the season, he’s clearly revived his career and has changed the perception of being a first-round bust.
Wilson, understandably, raves about how Fluker “just manhandles guys on the field.” It’s those abilities that endear Fluker to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who has said he wants him back next year. Fluker said the same this week.
“I love being here, I love being a Seahawk,” Fluker said. “If my future is here, and I hope it is here, I would love to be here forever. I know how things go, though. Other than that, I’m just working to be ready for the game on Saturday.”
He’s practiced all week leading up to the 5:15 p.m. Saturday matchup against the Cowboys in the NFC wild card round after missing three of the past four games with a hamstring injury. He really should have sat out all four but was forced into action when Sweezy got hurt against Kansas City on Dec. 23.
Fluker said he heard a pop in his hamstring against the 49ers and thought his season might have been over because of injury for the second year in a row.
Wilson noted that this week when asked how much it means to him to be the only quarterback in the NFL to not miss an offensive snap, and that Fluker is one of the players who has inspired him.
“(Fluker) wasn’t supposed to play and he gets dressed and ready to roll and steps in and helps us win the football game,” Wilson said. “Those are things that I think go unnoticed at times.”
And it speaks to the toughness and physicality Fluker has brought to this revamped Seahawks offensive line.
“The thing is, it’s all about a mindset,” Fluker said. “Playing with a mindset of I got to go play for my teammates. You see guys out there giving everything they got, too. We got guys banged up but they don’t give a (darn). We are on the field and we are going to give everything that we got. And we showed that in that game (against the Chiefs) that we weren’t supposed to win, apparently everyone said, but we did.”
His career was sputtering after flaming out with the Chargers. Four years after they drafted him 11th overall out of Alabama they released him two days before his $8.8 million salary became guaranteed.
So, yeah, Fluker knows how the business of this works.
He signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Giants in 2017, when he teamed up with current Seahawks offensive line coach Mike Solari there and began converting from tackle to guard. It didn’t go well at first there, either.
“When I first played guard, I wasn’t sure what I was doing,” Fluker said. “You throw a guy from tackle to guard and say he’s going to do great, but that’s what people think. You got to give them time to grow into that position and understand it.”
Fluker said it took him until about his third game there to feel comfortable.
“I had time to grow into it and understand what the hell I was actually doing,” he laughed. “I took a while. But I finally started picking it up and it wasn’t as hard as I was at first thinking.
“Plus, I’m a big dude. So I take up a whole lot of space and I use my size to my advantage now. And being here with Coach Solari, a second year going through his system, that helped me play faster and understand better the concepts.”
Big dude is probably an understatement. Probably more like the biggest dude.
And one of the toughest. He said he was lobbying to play last week, too.
Instead, Germain Ifedi slid to right guard while George Fant was at right tackle. Carroll noted how much they’re looking forward to Fluker being back in the mix and they’re not counting out Sweezy’s return this week, either. But Sweezy hasn’t practiced meaning Ethan Pocic could start at left guard.
Wilson being sacked six times – that probably can’t happen two weeks in a row if the Seahawks hope to get out of Dallas with a win.
“Obviously we need to protect better,” Schottenheimer said. “We had a couple moving parts, different guys playing different spots. It was communication, it was things I could’ve done better. I probably should have slid the line left a little bit more because there were some things they were doing on that side. We had a simple mental error on one. So I’m not concerned about it. Moving forward, that’s not us and we’ll be better this week against certainly a very good defense.”
Fluker knows that. He said this Dallas defensive line looks completely different than the one he played against in Week 3.
But those who remember him pancaking the Rams’ Ndamukong Suh to the turf or how unafraid the Seahawks were of facing Suh and Aaron Donald twice can imagine Fluker’s mindset this weekend.
“To see how (the Cowboys) are performing, they’ve done a great job,” he said.
“But I ain’t backing off of no challenge. And I feel great. Great to be back. Great to be with my guys so we can go get it.”