Seahawks Insider Blog

Seahawks starting O-line shakeup: Justin Britt to LG, Garry Gilliam to RT: “We have to get better”

One preseason game and Russell Wilson getting dumped twice in as many drives – once losing a fumble inside his own 15 – was enough for the Seahawks to make changes to its starting, already-in-flux offensive line.

Line coach Tom Cable put Justin Britt, the team’s starting right tackle as a rookie all last season, as the first-team left guard today, moved previous backup left tackle Garry Gilliam into Britt’s starting right-tackle spot and demoted Alvin Bailey, the previous favorite to be the starting left guard, to backup left tackle during practice today here in Renton.

Britt hasn’t played left guard since his freshman year at Missouri. But he and Cable talked about this as a potential move back in May around the time Seattle was drafting linemen to potentially replace traded, two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger and departed free-agent left guard James Carpenter.

“We couldn't wait much longer to do this,” coach Pete Carroll said.

“We have to get better.”

Cable said of Friday’s 22-20 loss to Denver in the preseason opener: “I did not like the pass protection. At all.”

Drew Nowak was back at first-team center in place of Lemuel Jeanpierre. Jeanpierre started against the Broncos then said after the game he thought the line was slow and needed to communicate better.

Cable said Monday’s moves are more about getting Gilliam, an undrafted free agent and former college tight end out of Penn State who was a surprise inclusion in the 53-man roster at the end of last year’s preseason, into the starting five linemen than it is unhappiness with Britt. Britt’s been beaten outside often by faster edge rushers. Now he will be getting his hands on rusher far more quickly after the snap, since his assigned defenders are no longer lining up 3 or 4 yards outside of him.

Asked how soon he expects to settle on five starters for the regular season, Cable said: “We think we are really close. ... after this week (Friday’s exhibition game at Kansas City) or the middle of next week.”

Mix-n-match Seattle has had 23 offensive linemen start games since 2010. Only Indianapolis and San Diego (25 each) have had more different starters up front.

Seattle had changes on the other side of the ball, too. Dion Bailey was the starting strong safety in day 17 of Kam Chancellor’s holdout that has no end in sight. Previous first-stringer DeShawn Shead was back with the second team. And undrafted rookie Ronald Martin from LSU was the first-team strong safety with All-Pro Earl Thomas still watching while recovering from February shoulder surgery.

Carroll said the team is mapping out a schedule for Thomas’ return to practice now, and that it is in fact “realistic” Thomas will extend his consecutive-games-played streak to start his career to 81 regular-season games and 10 postseason ones in the opener Sept. 13 at St. Louis.

Until then, Martin is going to get a shot at free safety that Steven Terrell had been getting through last week.

“He’s very comfortable in the position,” Carroll said of Martin.

So, yes, performances in these preseason games are shaping changes to Seattle’s starting lineup.

“What we try to do is use these games as the four days to get our full-speed football right,” Carroll said, noting the team doesn’t tackle in practices yet had only four missed tackles against the Broncos last weekend.

WHAT ELSE I SAW IN THE 13TH PRACTICE OF TRAINING CAMP

▪ All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman was still out watching with a hip-flexor strain. Nickel man Will Blackmon, subbing because Jeremy Lane (broken arm, reconstructed knee) may not be back until October or later, was out with a groin strain. So the first-team secondary was Cary Williams and Marcus Burley at cornerback, Bailey at strong safety, Martin at free safety and rookie fifth-round pick Tye Smith as the nickel, fifth defensive back.

▪ The secondary is so thin that Jeremy Crayton signed as a cornerback in the morning and was the second-team guy outside a few hours later. Crayton, a 6-foot, 190-pound undrafted rookie from Southern Arkansas, was in Seattle’s rookie minicamp in May.

The Seahawks also signed defensive back Keelan Johnson, an undrafted free agent from Arizona State in 2013 who has been with Dallas, Miami and Philadelphia. The team released linebacker Dakorey Johnson and defensive tackle Jimmy Staten.

▪ Reserve CB Tharold Simon, a part-time starter as an injury fill-in for Byron Maxwell last season, did some individual drills for the first time since offseason shoulder surgery. Carroll said Simon is basically back. Though he’s unlikely to play Friday at Kansas City he expects Simon to in the third exhibition Aug. 29 at San Diego.

▪ B.J. Daniels made a few more noticeable catches downfield, then took a few snaps as the No. 3 quarterback. That’s because Tarvaris Jackson has what Carroll described as a high-ankle sprain that could keep the veteran and Seattle’s starter in 2011 out of practice for at least two weeks. Carroll said the team is shopping for a potential new, third quarterback behind Russell Wilson and R.J. Archer and that Seattle tried one out today. Carroll again praised Archer for how he played Friday, when the former Arena League QB was 11 of 20 passing for 110 yards and a touchdown while playing all but the first drive of the second half.

▪ Carroll said WR Chris Matthews has a sprained shoulder joint but could return in 10 days. That is better news than it appeared it might be when he got hurt covering a punt against Denver.

▪ Tight end Anthony McCoy had a tough game Friday with two drops and a penalty. Monday one of his first scrimmage plays was a missed block on a wide-receiver screen. He clapped his hands together in frustration over that.

▪ CB Douglas McNeil (sore ankle) watched practice. So did LB Brock Coyle, TE Cooper Helfet, DE Obum Gwacham, DT Jesse Williams (sore knee, likely back Tuesday), OT Kona Schwenke and CB Mohammed Seisay (slight groin strain).

LB Kevin Pierre-Louis returned to practice after a shoulder injury, doing some individual drils. DE Demarcus Dobbs returned on a limited basis. DT Julius Warmsley returned to practice after being out a couple weeks.

▪ Carroll said rookie DE Frank Clark played through a sore ankle Friday, played splendidly in all four quarters in fact, and the ankle is still sore.

Here is all Carroll said following practice:

On different looks on O-line: “We're just trying to see how much flexibility we have. Garry's played well in camp and he did a real nice job in the game. Want to take a look -- I'm sure if you talked to Tommy -- we're trying to get our best five and see what's the right combination. When you get down to nine guys or eight guys sometimes during the season, guys have to be flexible. So we're going to take this time. We can't wait too much longer to do this, so we need to do it now.”

On left guard: “It's still kind of wide open. It's a competitive situation for all the guys. We want to see what Justin looks like there, too. It's the same approach. We're just trying to figure it out.”

Evaluation on line play vs. Broncos: “The first group, we got the sack right off the bat, but the second group struggled through the game early on and in the fourth quarter they got better. They improved a lot. It was really just first game kind of mentality caught up with them a little bit, but they settled in alright so we'll see how they do this week. It's a really important week for us. We have to make strides. We have to get better. We can't go out there and struggle early in games and take some hits that we don't need to take. We've got to get off better than that. So we'll see. We're going to make it a good hard week for those guys and really challenge them to elevate their play.”

Benefit of Britt at LG: “Well I don't know if it's a benefit for him so much. It's a different position entirely. You're not playing in space so much, you know. He's a big dude and he understands how to come off the football. He's got really good feet in the run game. We'll see how it fits him. He was real comfortable with it today for the first time out. I don't know if it benefits him. He's just trying to help the team right now.”

(Gilliam’s improvement?) He's a fantastic athlete for the spot. He has great feet. He played tight end in college, for good reason. He made the transition to the line his senior year. He has the background and the athleticism for the line. He’s very light on his feet.

He’s had the transition from edge guy to offensive lineman last year. He had a terrific offseason and has come back firing. He’s smart, he’s athletic, all the good stuff ahead of him. We see a lot of promise in that so we’ll give him a shot.

(T-Jack injury?) He’s got a legitimately sprained ankle; high ankle. Don’t know how long it’s going to take. Guys respond differently. He feels pretty good about it. We’re hoping it’s a couple weeks.

(Add QB?) We’re looking at it. We worked out a guy today. We know that B.J. will go in the game if we need a third quarterback. He’s been with us in the system.

(Hurt his chances at WR?) We’re try to not let it. He’ll be in the receiver room. He’s done a nice job so far in that spot. He did great today. We’ll try not to let (the QB spot) be a distraction. We’ll give him some reps every day. We’ll kind of bank on what’s happened in the past.

(Gilliam bigger/stronger?) He’s definitely stronger. He’s at 308, something like that. He’s plenty big enough. He looks like the kind of exciting prospect you want for the position. We do cherish guys who get off the ball quickly.

(on DT T.Y. McGill) "Yeah and he has. All the way through all of our workouts he's been impressive. He's real quick and he showed it in the game. He played well at the point of attack. He had the great play he made in the backdoor on the short-yardage play. He did some other nice things too playing the scheme so he helped himself. It was a really good outing for him. So we're anxious to see how he comes around next time too."

(On Tharold Simon) "He's on his way back. Tharold will work tomorrow. If everything goes well from today, he'll work all of the drills and start to get some team work too. Not likely to play this weekend but by the next week, he'll play. So he's back.

(On Chris Matthews) "It's a slight shoulder sprain on his AC joint. He should be... he's got a chance to make it back in about 10 days. It could be quicker."

(On Mohammed Seisay) "He has a groin pull."

(On Douglas McNeil) "He's got a sore ankle. He played with it and got through it but kind of sore the last couple days after the game. I don't know how bad it is. They think he's got a chance to get back here in a few days." (On Davis) "Yeah. He's banged up."

(On Richard Sherman, Will Blackmon) "They ran today for the first time so it's just a process of getting them back. I don't know when they'll return. Both of them had slight strains so we just didn't want to aggrevate them. That will be day-to-day to show us how they can progress. We did see some guys come back today. Kevin Pierre-Louis got back out. Warmsley got back out. Dobbs back out. Was good to see some of those guys coming back to action. We'll start to feel that by the end of the week. Those guys should be able to play in the game."

(On Britt at left guard) "We wanted to see what was going to happen with the group and we thought of him as a guard or a tackle. When the thing opened it was there, legit at right tackle, that's where we went for it. This is not a big deal for us. We've thought this all along. We thought of him as a potential center as well. We've talked with him about that also."

(On Dion Bailey and Ronald Martin at safety) "We're going to give Dion a shot to see how he looks and we want Martin to get a chance to show us too. Both those guys have looked very good. This week, next week, we need to find out how far they can take it. Dion has been really active and I'm really excited about the playmaking that he's brought to us. We'll see how he fits in with these guys."

(On Dion Bailey) "He hit the heck out of guys. He had three or four really good tackles, covered things up fine in the passing game, but his running and hitting was really what was apparent."

(On Martin) "He's just looked really comfortable with the position. He's very much at ease. He's a terrific athlete. He's got really good all-around athleticism and good feel for the ball. He had a pick during practice that was just like the one that got away from him in the game, an overthrow like that, and unfortunately he didn't get. But he looks the part back there. He had a couple nice plays on the perimeter and tackles. I've been real pleased with what he's shown us so far and we're going to give him a shot."

New signings: “We need legs at corner right now so we’ll give these guys a chance, guys that we had worked out. We can see that we’re a little bit behind with Sherm not being able to make it back and Will not making it back right away and Seisay going out, too. We just needed legs right now, but they’ll get a chance. They got tested today pretty good right off the bat.”

Williams: “Jesse’s knee is a little bit sore. We think he should get back to practice tomorrow, if not the next day. We’re hoping that he will play again this week.”

Kam Chancellor’s holdout: “Just that our conversations continue, and nothing has changed. We’re in communication regularly.”

How surprised are you that this thing has lingered? “Knowing Kam and knowing how strong-minded he is, I think he’s made that statement that he’s really got a thought here that he’s holding onto. We’ll see how it goes.”

Are you too thin at tackle? “If you notice, Alvin was moving around at tackle today. Alvin has the flexibility. He’s played all those spots. He’s a diverse player. He can play both left side and right side guard and both tackles. That really is a benefit. Today he played at left tackle some, so we’ll be OK.”

Is Alvin Bailey almost more valuable as a backup? “I don’t know that, but he certainly does have value in that regard. There are very few guys that can just readily do that. He’s a real bright kid and all. That’s a real plus and all.”

Tyler Lockett’s returns: “He was very, very definitive about his breaks. He knew where he wanted to go, and he hit it and took off. Now I say that and he took the punt and went this way and then went that way. But once he took off, he really used his speed. The thing I loved about it is he had the speed to finish the run. So often guys make a big run and they get there and then somebody catches them or trips them up. He finished going away. That’s 4.3 legit, and it showed up on the field. He had a lot of fun with it, too. He was very comfortable with it. It wasn’t a big deal to him. He’s been scoring touchdowns like that his whole life. It was kind of like, OK, here too. Doug Baldwin reminded him that he had returned a kick back in the preseason and also that Kearse had run a kick back in preseason and neither one of them got another return in their life they remember. He says he’s going to break the curse and stay with it — that’s not a joke with Jermaine. He’s going to end the cycle, he said.”

On Earl Thomas: “Matter of fact we are on it right now and trying to gauge how many days it will take to get him back and do this with him. That’s very much a topical issue for us right now making sure we get enough days to get him right, get him the work that he needs so that he can play, shooting for the opener.’’

So playing in the opener is realistic?: “Yes, still realistic.’’

On how Carroll came out from Friday’s game: “Good. Good. Bouncing around.’’

On if Frank Clark looked as good on film as he did in the game: “Yes, he did. And I think the variety of things that he showed, the chase off the back side, play side whipping the tackle, threw the guy around, hit the running back, caused the fumble. Pass rush wise, outside, inside. He had a little bit of trouble inside in the running game when playing three technique but other than that he was very effective so a really good start for him.’’

On if Clark is hurt: “His ankle is a little bit sore from last week. Actually got tweaked in practice last week, played with it, just after a couple of days down stiffened up a little bit.’’

On R.J. Archer: “I thought R.J. did all right. He looks pretty good running the club, he did a nice job in the no huddle stuff. I thought he played like he’s been playing out here. We’ve liked the way he’s handled it. He’s been very comfortable in practices and he carried that to the game. So it was good.’’

What happened to Quayshawn Nealy?

He got his ankle caught. I think he sprained his ankle a little bit.

Do preseason games carry more meaning given the practice limitations?

To me they do and to our program they do. We use these games as -- these are the four days we have to get full-speed football right. We want to cherish those opportunities and make the most of them and make sure that we make progress. That's just the way we've handled it. It's no different than ever but I've made a big deal out of it because I want our guys to really go for it in these games so they can get their football going. I was really pleased with our tackling. Our tackling was excellent. We missed four tackles, which is a great first game for our group. That's one of the questions you have: how will you tackle guys and get them on the ground? We did really well with that. We didn't do a lot of other things really well but at least we got that accomplished.

How did Tye Smith play?

I thought he did well. I thought he did real well. The deep ball was well played, he had a curl route that he got and was on the break there, too. He's done that in practice consistently. He's done a nice job. He's made a big statement that he understands what we want to do, technique-wise he's very good and he handled the game well. He's going to get a lot of looks here this next week as well, so a really good opportunity to show where he fits in. I thought his first showing was excellent.

How much of a jump has Tye Smith made from rookie camp to now?

It's been a big leap for him, really, because technique-wise he understands what we're doing. He shows it day-in and day-out against our guys and then he's carried it to the games. That means he's poised and he's composed enough to go ahead and believe in the preparation and all that. That's a big statement that he made. Not all the young guys are able to do that, so that's a good statement. We need him.

ON FILM DID ANY OF THE YOUNG WRs STAND OUT?

"Kevin Smith played really well. He had some really nice catches and tough, tough plays he made. It was cool to see him. The other guys did OK, but I thought he stood out.

"I should say, B.J., too. B.J. looked comfortable in the game. He made a couple mistakes but he was real competitive in the game. That was a good sign. On special teams he was by far the leader on the receiving group."

JESSE DAVIS, OT:

"You know, it's been hard on him. He's had a lot of tough guys to go against. He started a little it slower, I think, when we came out of the OTAs. We thought he might be a little further ahead, but then he caught up and started to do OK. It's been hard. He's gone against really good guys day in and day out. He's seen enough of Cassius Marsh to last a lifetime."

ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THE OFFENSIVE LINE?

"No, really, I think it's a process that we have to go through. It's not like it's a surprise. We knew that some young guys were going to play, so we are competing to figure it out. The expectations of all of the younger guys playing together at the same time out there, to expect those guys to function at a high level is asking a lot right now -- because there is no one that's been there, that can really communicate to them. So they are kind of looking at one another, trying to figure out their calls and all that. It's going to make them look hesitant a little bit. It's going to make them a little bit behind until we can get them comfortable. That's why this week is so important. That's why this game is so important for them, the next couple weeks, so they can settle down and play like they are capable. They won't play in the NFL with all their guys sitting next to them. They are going to be punched in one guy at a time in the midst of other guys. So it's a lot easier for them in that case. I think it's pretty typical, what's going on. But the other side of it is, we've seen the athleticism. We've seen the smarts from these guys individually. So they are going to be in it. We just have to wait and see how it works out. Like I said, it's going to take the whole camp, for sure."

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