SEATTLE Rees Odhiambo could barely complete a sentence before another teammate passing by his locker joked and made him laugh.
Those were the first words he’d heard all debut night.
“You know, as an O-line, when you don’t get that much of feedback it’s kind of a good thing," the Seahawks’ new, forced-by-crisis left tackle said, with a grin, following his reassuring preformance in Friday’s 26-13 preseason win over Kansas City.
"So we were doing a pretty good job."
Crisis averted? Maybe not yet.
But crisis stalled, it seems. For now, at least.
Admit it: You, me, your dog, likely even in their private thoughts the Seahawks themselves expected the worst with Odhiambo. The struggling backup guard and tackle without a steady role since Seattle drafted him in the third round last year? Protecting $87.6-million franchise quarterback Russell Wilson? In any game involving tackling, exhibition or not?
It was darn near a civic panic this week that George Fant -- George Fant, the undrafted rookie college basketball player and most unlikely tackle in the NFL last year -- was out for the year because torn knee ligaments. The Seahawks were going to try Odhiambo in Fant’s place solely because they absolutely did not want to move Luke Joeckel, who’s started three seasons at left tackle for Jacksonville, from left guard to tackle to upset whatever was remaining of continuity on the offensive line.
Then Odhiambo goes out Friday and not only doesn’t get Wilson hurt or worse, he plays well.
Or, better than well.
“I thought he did really well,” Wilson said. “He is a tough-minded guy. He’s got a lot of talent. I thought he did a great job tonight.”
Odhimabo said he “felt pretty good. A lot of things you can always improve upon. Just got to keep growing from it.”
Now, can he do it again?
“One thing you can always do is be consistent,” he said.
I had binoculars on him from the press box for most of his 2 1/2 quarters of play with the starting offense. Here’s what I saw:
The Chiefs kept sending flank rushers Chris Jones and Dee Ford far wide around Odhiambo, as if doubting the 6-foot-4, 315-pound former Boise State mainstay could move his feet quickly enough to block them. Indeed, Odhiambo has often looked slow getting to pass rushers and even his run blocks in two preseasons and spot play as an injury fill-in last season.
Yet Odhiambo kept moving outside with Jones and Ford, parrying them farther and farther upfield with his hands. Eventually, consistently, he pushed Chiefs defenders three and four yards past Wilson. The quarterback had an I-5 sized lane to his left to either run to buy more time to throw, or just run. He got pressured just one time in 16 drop backs in the first half, with zero sacks.
“We kind of did a little better job preparing for this game than the other ones,” Odhiambo said of opponents’ pass-rushing tendencies. “So we were kind of ready for it.”
On running plays, for which coaches have been praising Odhiambo this month, he regularly stood up Kansas City’s defensive lineman. Multiple times, he got off those blocks and reached second-level defenders, the Chiefs’ linebackers. That was part of the reason Seattle upped its preseason yards-per-carry average to 4.2 on Friday night, 32 rushes for 134 yards. It was 2.7 for the running backs in the preseason opener two weeks ago in a 48-17 win at the Los Angeles Chargers.
Odhiambo did give up the only sack of Wilson, on the first drive of the third quarter. Jones just got off the line more quickly than Odhiambo, then put a Karate Kid-like combination of quick punches to get past him to the quarterback for a 7-yard sack.
Other than that, this performance may have earned Odhiambo the start in the opener Sept. 10 at Green Bay. Jumping to conclusions there? Maybe not. There’s not a ton of time for the Seahawks to try another idea. The final preseason game, in Oakland, is six days away.
At the very least, Odhiambo’s work Friday allayed a region’s fears. For one night, anyway.
Someone asked Seahawks coach Pete Carroll about the fact Odhiambo came through when his team needed him to.
“He’s coming through,” Carroll corrected, indicating that though Friday was encouraging and relieving it wasn’t conclusive. “And he’s trying to meet the call.
“We have a real opportunity right now for someone to step in and go. I was with Rees a lot this week, making that he’s ready for this and doing it right and handling it properly. And his mind was very clear. He played very clear in the game and he was not bothered by the pressure of that or the stress that that could bring. I was really proud of him for that.
“He wants to do really well. He’s a really good worker, and all that. Smart kid. He just wants to come through because he knows that we need him. So, first time out when he really knew he was the starter and all that, he did a good job.”