RENTON Rees Odhiambo knows these next four days present his best chance yet to start at the key position within Seattle’s most pivotal and worrisome group: the oft-debated, fretted-about offensive line.
You may be freaking out. But to hear the 2016 third-round draft choice, he’s not fretting.
“It’s a big opportunity,” he said. “And I’m ready to go take it.”
It appears Odhiambo, a backup left guard and tackle for his first season plus this month’s training camp with the Seahawks, will start Friday’s third preseason game against Kansas City at left tackle. He’s first up in the auditions ongoing to replace George Fant, who is headed to season-ending surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee on Monday.
Seattle traded on Monday a fifth-round draft choice next year to get Matt Tobin from Philadelphia. He’s a veteran of 21 NFL starts, 20 at guard. But the Seahawks began a crash course for him at tackle on Tuesday, when he practiced for the first time for his new team. With only one more day of full practice before Friday’s exhibition, coach Tom Cable won’t know what he has or doesn’t have with Tobin as a tackle for at least into next week.
Same is true for rookie second-round pick Ethan Pocic and Monday free-agent signing Tyrus Thompson. They just started getting reps in practice at left tackle for the first time on Monday.
So for now it’s Odhimabo, who played left tackle at Boise State. He replaced Fant in the second quarter of Friday’s preseason win over Minnesota, after center Justin Britt fell across the back of Fant’s right leg while they were pass blocking.
“You saw what happened: Rees goes right in there and starts playing. That’s the first thing that happened,” coach Pete Carroll said, trying not to get ahead of the right now.
Yet there is just Friday’s game and the preseason finale six days later, next Thursday, Aug. 31 at Oakland, between the Seahawks and their season opener at Green Bay. That makes what usually is a throwaway game for starters, that fourth exhibition, important to determine whether Tobin, Pocic or Odhiambo will start at left tackle -- or whether the Seahawks need the use the option they don’t want to take out of their back pocket unless they absolutely have to: moving former Jacksonville left tackle Luke Joeckel out of the starting left-guard spot to be Fant’s replacement.
Odhiambo has struggled for much of the time in preseason games since entering the league last year, but had a solid if unspectacular appearance last November when Fant injured his shoulder and Odhiambo finished that win at left tackle.
Last week after he replaced Fant, Odhiambo gave up two sacks on the first three plays after halftime and had two holding penalties.
“He did well at times. His running game was good. Passing game had some good stuff and some stuff he’d like to fix,” Carroll said of Odhiambo’s Friday against the Vikings.
“He’s capable of doing a lot. He’s a very good athlete at the position. We drafted him highly with the thought that he’d be able to do this. I’ve never backed off the thought. Physically, he can do it all. Now, he’s just got to make sure he can settle in and execute and function really well with the guys. He’s got Luke sitting next to him, which will really help him.
“He’s physically really good. It’s just a matter of experience right now. He’s been a left tackle most of his career. So it’s not a transition for him at all, it’s just a matter of him stepping up and just being right. To do that, I’ve already talked to him, just settle down. Just settle down and confidently go about his work and let the place come to him. I think he’s going to have the chance to be really good. We drafted him to be a starting player. We drafted him with the thought he could be a left tackle.
“So, here we go. We’ll see what happens.”
Odhiambo says he’s so much better this year than last -- for the same reasons coaches say the biggest growth in any player is between years one and two.
“Man, things have been a lot easier,” Odhiambo said. “Just a lot more technical stuff and just go out there and go out there and play your hardest. But last year was a lot more thinking because you are a rookie, and you are trying to pick up a lot of different things at the same time -- and you are playing against guys who are a lot better than you had against you in college.”
Even though he’s been a guard and tackle within the same scrimmages at times during practices this month, Odhiambo says he’s not thinking too much now.
“Once you know your schemes, you know your schemes,” he said.
This opportunity Odhimabo says he’s going to seize came at a personal price. Fant’s injury hit Odhiambo, too.
“Man, I was hurt, you know, because that’s been my boy from day one,” he said of his fellow rookie blocker in 2016. “I hope he gets better and gets healthy and gets ready to play next year.
“But for now, I’m going to just pray -- and I’m going to get back to work and make we do good for our team, as an O-line.”
What is Odhiambo’s comfort level on the left side right now?
“I’m comfortable on the left side pretty good. I’m just out here trying to do good at wherever they put me at.”
“At guard, everything is just a little shorter. Everything happens quicker. At tackle, you’ve got to be a little more patient and let everything come to you.”
“Yeah, (left tackle’s) pretty familiar. I’ve been working it since I’ve been here. So, nothing new.”
But now, something more is definitely at stake.