Russell Okung has as much use and warmth for injury excuses as he does for opposing defensive linemen.
That is to say, none.
“I mean, injuries are a part of the game,” said the Seahawks’ left tackle.
Okung would know. He missed all of the spring and the first two weeks of training camp into mid-August following surgery to fix a toe and foot issue that cost him eight games last year. Then he briefly left the Seahawks’ win over Denver last month with a shoulder injury.
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“There’s not a guy out there who is not playing injured, who doesn’t feel pretty bad,” he said Wednesday. “So just add me to the rest of them.”
Seattle’s cornerstone offensive lineman, its all-important left tackle vanguard on quarterback Russell Wilson’s blind side, has looked slow with his feet — or at the very least less than 100 percent effective — through four games.
That’s not an outside assessment. Okung’s line coach said as much heading toward Sunday’s game between the Seahawks (3-1) and Dallas Cowboys (4-1) at CenturyLink Field.
“He’s about 80 percent, yeah. That’s fair,” assistant Tom Cable said Wednesday of the idea this is not the full-on Russell Okung.
The consensus inside the Seahawks headquarters is there is a reason for that — and that it’s a matter of time before the real Okung returns.
Okung had three of the offensive line’s six penalties in the Seahawks’ 27-17 victory at Washington Monday, a game that started 17-0 and ended closer than it should have been. One of the flags on Okung was one of Seattle’s four false-start fouls. Two of his penalties were for holding, negating a 17-yard run in the first quarter by Marshawn Lynch and Wilson’s 19-yard scramble away from trouble in the third quarter.
Cable said that second holding foul on Okung was proof this isn’t the same left tackle that went to the 2012 Pro Bowl, the one Seattle made its highest-drafted tackle in franchise history with the fifth pick in the 2010 draft. That was one spot ahead of where Hall of Famer Walter Jones went to the Seahawks in 1997.
This is not the same Okung Seattle signed to a $48.5 million, six-year contract in 2010 that is paying him $8,760,000 in base pay this year — the highest of the deal.
“I think in terms of reps, and being real disciplined with your feet,” Cable said when asked what Okung is currently lacking. “Like the holding call he gets in pass protection was a foot issue. Didn’t need to happen. Those are things you can fix. And we will do that right away.”
The Seahawks believe Okung’s still essentially rusty after the offseason surgery. He didn’t participate in the team’s minicamp in May and remained off the practice field until mid-August, deep into training camp.
“You think about it, he missed all spring and a good part of summer, even,” Cable said. “So where everyone else has had 1,500 reps, he’s had 300.”
Okung acknowledges he’s behind his fellow offensive linemen — and the defenders he’s trying to block — in being in October game shape.
“Oh, yeah, definitely. Obviously missing minicamp and missing training camp, you are going to feel the effects of that,” he said Wednesday. “But I’m very glad I have a really supportive group in our offensive line. And the coaches have been extremely patient in working with me and getting me back right.
“Obviously, a lot comes in repetitions, and I think things would be better off (with more of those by now). But I’m at where I’m at — and I’m grateful to be out there either way.”
Asked how close he feels to his normal, fully healthy and effective self, Okung said: “Getting close. Getting close.”
Coach Pete Carroll isn’t about to entertain any thought of replacing Okung with, say, Alvin Bailey or Garry Gilliam. No wonder: Those two backup tackles have combined for a grand total of zero NFL starts.
Besides, it’s not like the sky is crashing down all on No. 76’s massive shoulders. Cable pointed out that Okung and his criticized offensive line have paved the way for Seattle to be leading the NFL in rushing offense at 167.3 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry.
Of course, 209 of the Seahawks’ 669 yards on the ground this season have come from Wilson. Against Washington he had 122 yards rushing, a record for a Seattle quarterback and for any QB on Monday Night Football. About a half-dozen of his 11 rushes were scrambles away from defenders who had bulled through the line on called pass plays.
Wilson has escaped seemingly sure sacks and made positive plays at least six times in each of the last two games, wins over Denver and Washington that may have been losses without his heroics. His total of being sacked nine times in four games could easily be a league-leading 21 sacks, if not for Wilson’s extraordinary twists, turns and improvisational dashes out of trouble.
“Just like any guy coming out, he’s a little banged up at times,” Carroll said of Okung. “He’s not at his 100 percent, but he’s plenty good enough to play, and he’s doing a good job at busting it.
“He was going to be behind for a while. He went through the whole offseason of not working and not being able to do the stuff that a normal guy does. So I’m hoping that he will continue to improve as we go through the middle part of the season.”
When asked how he assesses the offensive line’s play through four games, Okung had a tepid tone.
“We are doing all right,” he said. “This past game was a setback. But we are looking forward to getting better and correcting our mistakes.
“A win’s a win, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. … We’re nowhere close to where we can be.”
And as for himself?
“I think I’m only good as the guys next to me. That’s the great thing about the offensive line: It’s not just one guy,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep getting better all together.
“I wish I could have been more disciplined to help the guys out more. The great thing is, I get another chance this Sunday.”