The most promising development yet for the Seahawks’ worrisome offensive line is, fittingly, the best moment yet in this training camp.
It’s got to be the best moment yet in Germain Ifedi’s 22-year-old life.
The top rookie draft pick shuffled to his right and dug his spikes into the turf Monday.
Opposite him, Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett kept charging like a helmeted bull. His face mask and shoulders barreled into the newbie.
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Yet Ifedi refused to yield to Bennett. This pass-rush drill was a stalemate.
That infuriated one of the NFL’s best pass rushers. A rookie eight years his junior, from the same college program (Texas A&M), denying the speedy Bennett the free path into opposing backfields he’s enjoyed for most of the last couple of Seahawks seasons?
Not without Bennett getting in some extra jabs afterward.
The eight-year veteran became so incensed, he ripped off his helmet following the coach’s whistle that ended their draw. Hatless, Bennett went after the still-helmeted Ifedi. Ifedi counter-charged at Bennett. Pushing and shoving ensued. Bennett continued screaming at the rookie — even after dozens of offensive and defensive linemen and their coaches intervened.
About five minutes later in Monday morning’s juicy, training-camp pass-rush drill, Bennett and Ifedi faced off again. Ifedi stood up Bennett again, and this time the rookie won. Bennett could not gain ground on his team’s first-round draft choice. Some more pushing and jawing later, coaches had to separate the two former Aggies again.
Seattle’s first day in shoulder pads, its third day of camp in a five-minute span on the back-most practice field, may go down as the time Ifedi proved he was worth that 31st overall pick in April’s draft. Not to mention the moment he cemented the starting right-guard job, which the Seahawks have just about handed him since day one of rookie minicamp.
Ifedi not only solidified his claim on that job with what he did to and against Bennett. He won over his new teammates — as he walked off the practice field, he was laughing and joking with center Patrick Lewis.
Ifedi also won over his new head coach.
“I didn’t get to see the pass-rush drill, but I know there was a little A&M issue going on down there, which is fun,” said Pete Carroll, who was about 50 yards away watching quarterbacks and receivers work against defensive backs at the time Ifedi and Bennett were skirmishing, but Ifedi’s performance was so noteworthy an assistant informed the coach about it.
“That’s who he is,” Carroll said of Ifedi. “He’s shown that throughout.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. He’s very aggressive, very tough.”
And big. Ifedi is listed as 6 feet 5 and 325 pounds. He looks even bigger than that in his blue, 76 practice jersey over shoulder pads. His wingspan is as wide as Shaquille O’Neal is tall (85 inches).
Now, after Monday, Ifedi’s Seahawks street cred is as big as he is.
“Being willing to stand up for himself on the first day,” the coach said, nodding and grinning approvingly, “pretty good.”
We would have asked Ifedi how that felt, but Carroll has a policy of prohibiting his rookies from speaking in the first days of training camp.
The Seahawks’ offensive line remains the large — make that, mammoth — issue within a camp that so far has been noticeably lively, fresh and sharp. That line is likely to have new starters in all five positions, including former guard and tackle Justin Britt at center. That’s in the wake of left tackle Russell Okung signing with Denver and right guard J.R. Sweezy signing as a free agent with Tampa Bay this spring — for $24 million more than the $8.3 million Ifedi will earn in the first four years of his rookie contract.
But after what Ifedi did Monday, the right guard spot looks settled.
Bennett was in good spirits after the two-hour practice, smiling and greeting visitors on the field and asking how folks were doing. His veteran defensive-end partner implied Bennett may have been trying to test or send a message to the new blocker.
“It’s all about competing, trying to see where (Ifedi’s) head is at, also letting him know that, ‘Hey, we’re not soft,’ as well,” Cliff Avril said. “But it’s all fun and games, we keep it on the field.
“I’ll probably go punch (Bennett) in the gut once we get in the locker room or something.”
Avril might think twice about joking like that with Ifedi.
Ifedi had the reputation at Texas A&M for being nasty, not just in games but in practices while as a three-year starter in college at right tackle and at guard. He became known as a mean counter to the spread, no-huddle, finesse game the Aggies play. That’s precisely what attracted the Seahawks to him. While many others saw his school and thought he might be another Texas A&M spread guy who can’t adjust to the NFL game, Seattle’s veteran line coach Tom Cable, the team’s scouting staff with general manager John Schneider and Carroll all saw an ill-tempered thumper on the field.
Against Bennett on Monday, Ifedi brought to mind what Schneider said the night the Seahawks made him their highest-drafted lineman since James Carpenter out of Alabama in 2011.
“He’s one of those guys that just moves people and plays with a nasty streak,” Seattle’s GM said on April 28.
“I went to Kansas (to scout) and that was my first school call this year, and Troy Kema is their academic advisor there. He was like, ‘You can ask me about all these guys at Kansas, and you can ask me about all the guys at Texas A&M, and I’m just going to tell you one thing: If you don’t draft Germain Ifedi you have no idea what you’re doing.’ I was like, ‘All right.’ That was our first conference and I was like, ‘I guess we’re drafting Germain Ifedi.’ ”
It wasn’t that simple, of course.
But Monday, it sure looked wise.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
Seahawks camp at a glance
WHAT WAS IT? The third day of training camp was the first one in shoulder pads — and most entertaining one yet. It started in cool fog and ended two hours later in warm sunshine. After months of pitch and catch by backs and receivers essentially in underwear, the linemen demanded most of the attention. Their spirited pass-rush drill had the couple thousand fans and watching teammates roaring.
WHO SHINED: Richard Sherman ran in stride with second-year flyer Tyler Lockett on a 50-yard go route in team scrimmaging. Russell Wilson’s pass probably would have soared past most cornerbacks, but most aren’t three-time All-Pros. Sherman leaped and intercepted the pass above the shorter Lockett, holding onto the ball as he both tumbled to the turf. The crowd and entire opposite sideline of defenders went nuts. … Sherman also banged in physical, one-on-one battles with top receiver Doug Baldwin, knocking down a pass. … Second-round pick Jarran Reed bolted from his defensive-tackle stance and drove starting center candidate Justin Britt four yards back off the line before Britt stood up the rookie there during the pass-rush battles. … Brandon Browner got some of his first snaps with the starting defense, in nickel (five) and dime (six) defensive-back sets as the deep safety playing center field. DeShawn Shead again was the starting right cornerback opposite Sherman with Jeremy Lane the nickel back and Kelcie McCray the dime. … Former Skyline High School star Jake Heaps has looked good early in camp, throwing accurate passes and making quick, usually accurate decisions. … Wide receiver Antwan Goodley leveled an outside defender with a run block on a sweep, then one play later leaped along the opposite sideline in the end zone to snare Heaps’ pass with one hand in the end zone. That was the final play of the spirited practice.
WHO SAT: Coach Pete Carroll said the broken bone in tight end Cooper Helfet’s foot will require surgery. That will put Helfet likely weeks behind in the crowded battle for perhaps one spot behind recuperating Jimmy Graham and entrenched No. 2 tight end Luke Willson. Brandon Williams, formerly of the University of Oregon, Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins, has been getting some first-team time along with third-round pick Nick Vannett as a first-team tight end. Helfet’s making the first-game roster for the third consecutive season is in jeopardy. … Carroll said C.J. Prosise has a “grade-one” (lower severity) right hamstring strain that could sideline him for five to eight more days. The rookie running back and third-round pick missed his second consecutive full day. … Defensive end Frank Clark had an ice pack on his lower right leg instead of practicing, but Carroll said he thought that was just a “minor” issue.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Getting married at the Four Seasons in Seattle was one of her lifelong dreams. I wanted to give her one of her lifelong dreams.” — Shead, discussing getting married recently to his wife, Jessica, at the fancy hotel in downtown Seattle.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle