For the many who believe Germain Ifedi is part of the problem and not the solution to the Seahawks’ offensive-line issues for 2018, turn your head.
“Ifedi will be a second-year tackle for the first time,” coach Pete Carroll said this week.
He was listing that as one of his reasons for enthusiasm and optimism that Seattle can get right back to the playoffs next season. They are missing them now for the first time in six years.
Yes, the coach is implying Germain Ifedi will be Seattle’s starting right tackle again next season.
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Ifedi’s debut season as the Seahawks’ right tackle was not a reason for enthusiasm and optimism.
The team’s top draft choice in 2016 was the league’s most-penalized player in 2017. He led the league in number of accepted fouls (16), total flags (20) and penalty yards given away (120) while starting all 16 games. He had nine false starts, also the most in the NFL. He could have been called for twice that amount. He continually tried to get a head start by getting out of his stance a half second before the snap, to get outside and stay ahead of faster edge pass rushers. Sometimes he caught called for it, many other times he did not.
Ifedi had eight holding penalties. That was second-most in the league. He particularly struggled holding on too long and grabbing defenders as quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled outside of him to avoid the constant stream of pass rushers that had beaten Ifedi’s linemates, or Ifedi.
“I think it’s about maturity, I really do,” offensive line coach Tom Cable said last month when asked about Ifedi’s penalties. “We’ve talked about it. We addressed it again today. And really, this is about protecting your team. That’s in all phases. You have to have a conscience about you about doing the right thing, and that’s really where it ends.”
Asked if Ifedi was playing well, aside from the flags, Cable said on Dec. 13: “Yeah.”
Ifedi spent his rookie season starting at right guard, and it was a struggle both in pass protection and run blocking. The team moved him outside to right tackle at the start of training camp last summer. The idea was familiarity will lead to success; Ifedi was a right tackle at Texas A&M through 2015.
Then Tuesday, Carroll took the second day of the Seahawks’ earliest offseason in six years, after the first non-playoff season since 2011, to foreshadow Ifedi will again be the right tackle when real games resume in eight months.
Ifedi knows all eyes have been on him--the eyes of game officials who know he gets flagged a lot, of his coaches, his fan base.
Of his penalties, he said last month: “You have to do that much more right. The goal is to be right.
“As a collective group, we are trying to clean up the penalties. We are just focusing on getting right. We really have to have an attention to detail.”
This offseason, the Seahawks’ offensive line that went through five iterations of starting lineups during the 2017 season will change yet again. It has to. The Seahawks can’t even begin Carroll’s stated top goal of returning to a running game until they fix the line that could not provide lanes through which to run in 2017.
Plus, Seattle allowed Wilson to get hit 121 times this past season, third-most in the league. It was 10 more hits than in 2016, when the pass protection was so bad it got Wilson a severely sprained knee and badly sprained ankle in the first three games. The Seahawks’ O-line allowed 43 sacks in 2017, 11th-most in the NFL and one more than it gave up in 2016.
Starting left guard Luke Joeckel can become a free agent, and almost assuredly will. Seattle can’t afford more of what Joeckel gave it in 2017: 11 games played and five games missed because of another knee surgery, after his reconstructive one in October 2016 ended his final season with Jacksonville. The Seahawks paid Joeckel $7 million guaranteed for that.
I asked Joeckel on his way out of the locker room Monday, likely for the final time, if he had gotten any indication from the general manager John Schneider or any Seahawks they’d want to bring him back.
The answer was predictable.
“No,” Joeckel said.
So there’s a vacancy at left guard, next to the line’s one consistent positive this past season. Duane Brown, the 10-year veteran and three-time Pro Bowl left tackle, provided what Seattle had lacked for two years up front: experience and consistency. Cable said he could point to Brown at any practice and tell the rest of the Seahawks’ offensive linemen, “Watch him. This is how you do it, and do it right.”
Brown has one more year, 2018, left on the contract the Seahawks inherited when they traded a third-round draft choice this spring and a second-round pick next year to Houston for him at the end of October.
Seattle made the deal after starter George Fant tore knee ligaments in August and then the fill-in left tackle, Rees Odhiambo, was woeful, to put it charitably.
“George Fant went down. We excepted George to make extraordinary progress, and when George went down we got a little bit out of balance,” Carroll said. “John immediately went after it and we found a guy who think an instrumental factor--not just in what he’s already affected in the short term but the leadership and the expertise that Duane Brown brings to us is extraordinary.
“And we need it. That’s going to be a positive for the future.”
The 32-year-old Brown said in December for the second time in two months he wants to stay in Seattle beyond his contract ending. He is scheduled to earn $9.75 million in 2018.
“I’m old compared to these guys,” Brown joked. “(Rookie guard) Ethan Pocic told me when I was a rookie he was in eighth grade.
“I would love to finish my career here.”
Sounds like the feeling is mutual.
“The growth of the offensive line is huge. We made strides,” Carroll said. “I'm so excited to have the leadership that Duane brings. That's something that we haven't had, a guy that's been around and been through it all. Tough, smart, physical--the whole thing. He'll be a big factor and he'll take on a lot of responsibility.
“(He) was not able to really shoulder that this time around. He was just scrambling to just catch up with us this year. But I think through an offseason and all that he will have a big impact on Justin (Britt) and the other guys, Ifedi and those guys as we return.”
The Seahawks drafted Pocic in the second round last spring because he was LSU’s center who also played guard and tackle. He started five games at left guard when Joeckel was recovering from knee surgery, then five games at right guard when Mark Glowinski got benched and Oday Aboushi eventually went on injured reserve. Pocic also filled in a few plays at center for Britt when Britt went out briefly injured in the win at the New York Giants in October.
Pocic’s height of 6 feet 6 was a problem at times in 2017. He was too upright after the snap and lost leverage to the defenders he was trying to block. He also has to get stronger this offseason.
Aboushi can be a free agent, too. His biggest value when Seattle signed him to a one-year contract last spring was his experience to teach lead what had been the league’s youngest, cheapest line. Now Brown is here to do that.
The Seahawks could move Ifedi back to his rookie position of right guard, where the action and the pass rushers aren’t as quick. That could open right tackle for Fant to return there, with Brown locking down left tackle.
Britt will return as a two-year success at center, after failing at right tackle in 2014 as a rookie and at left guard in ‘16. Seattle gave him a three-year extension in August worth $27 million through the 2020 season.
So the questions are a left guard, right guard and right tackle--or at least was at right tackle, until Carroll dropped the Ifedi’s-second-year-as-a-tackle comment on Tuesday.
And there are questions whether Cable will still be coaching the blockers. Carroll greatly values continuity in his staff. But will the substandard results after the Seahawks have given Cable remarkable authority for years in scouting, evaluation, drafting and development cost him his job?
My News Tribune colleague John McGrath wrote this week it’s time for Cable to go.
A report last week said Cable may be a candidate for the head-coaching vacancy in Indianapolis.
Carroll, when asked this week a general question whether he expected changes to his staff this offseason, said: “There’s guys up for jobs now. This is that time of the year when stuff happens. We’ll see how it goes.”
Then Carroll said something that hinted some Seahawks assistants could be exiting.
“I think a lot of respect is to be dealt to these guys. They’ve got families and lives and careers and dreams and hopes as we all do,” Carroll said. “And we’ll see what happens.
“I’ve always been here to help our guys and I want them to go and do what they’re capable of doing and meet their challenges of their lifetime as well, and I’m up for that. When it works out, I do everything I can to help them.
“We’ll see what happens.”