The Seahawks’ search for five strong and collaborative men to occupy the offensive line will continue to bear scrutiny through the start of the season.
It’s never had more questions and doubts since the Pete Carroll-John Schneider regime took over.
Analyses of the Seahawks in recent seasons have been mostly critical of this unit. The overall offensive numbers have been strong (particularly the running game), and the team has remained in contention. Yet the line continues to be viewed as the least effective cog in an otherwise productive machine.
And that was before the Seahawks showed up for the early phases of this offseason with not a single player in the presumed starting unit who has started a game for the Seahawks at their current positions.
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The Seahawks have focused their attention on the issue, though, as seven recent draft picks create a competitive environment. Finding the best of the bunch and molding them into a cohesive unit will require time, along with some continued sorting and redistributing.
The group has better size than in most years past, and the overall athleticism looks good. Line coach Tom Cable likes smart players who can think on their feet, and he seems to think that the recent additions are solid in that regard.
If the two tackles atop the depth chart hold their positions, the Hawks will have bookend players who each started 16 games at tackle last season. On the left side will be Garry Gilliam, last season’s Seahawks right tackle. And on the right will be J’Marcus Webb, who started all last season with Oakland.
Trying Gilliam at left tackle as a replacement for departed Russell Okung is recognition that he showed considerable promise on the right side last season. Gilliam was durable and functional, but still on the learning curve.
A tight end at Penn State, Gilliam is a fairly nimble athlete who made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He jumped into the starting role last season. To go from undrafted to starting left tackle in three seasons is a quick rise.
Gilliam seems a confident sort who could bear up under that pressure. He’s missed practices during OTAs after having surgery to remove a knee cyst, so we haven’t seen how smoothly the relocation is progressing.
Cable said that Gilliam made big advances starting around Week 5 last season. “You have a good athlete, you have a smart guy who has been in it now,” Cable said of the reasons behind the move.
The leading option to challenge Gilliam in that spot is free agent Bradley Sowell, formerly a Cardinal, who hasn’t started in the NFL since 2013 and seems mostly like a short-term insurance policy.
On the other side, Webb is huge (6-7, 335). He’s another free-agent picked up to bide time. He’s been limited with a calf strain.
An intriguing subplot at that spot is Terry Poole, a fourth-round pick from 2015, who seemed out of his depth as a rookie. He did not look fit and aggressive enough for starter consideration.
But he was the first guy I noticed at the start of OTAs as somebody who has improved his body.
“I think he takes much better care of his body, and his preparation, which shows in how he looks and how he’s moving; it’s night and day from last year,” Cable said recently. “So that’s a big move from him.”
The guard positions seem well-manned for the future. How effective they’ll be in the “now” is another story.
I thought Mark Glowinski was the pick of the rookie litter of linemen last season, playing with surprising competence in his lone start at RG last season in place of injured J.R. Sweezy. The Hawks beat Arizona 36-6 that day, rushing for 140 yards and keeping quarterback Russell Wilson clean except for one sack.
Glowinski played convincingly that day, and is getting the look at starting left guard.
“He played like a pro today,” center Patrick Lewis said of Glowinski after that Arizona game.
I thought, in fact, they might even move him over to LG to take Justin Britt’s place when Sweezy returned. They didn’t do it then, but they have in the off-season.
Glowinski will have to prove it week after week, and stay healthy, but he looks like a guy who is ready to take the next step.
In the fight at left guard is a real feel-good story, Rees Odhiambo, a former Boise State tackle who has overcome life hardships and injuries. They say he’s extremely intelligent and tough, and might in the short term be a good backup swing-guard type of guy.
It’s hard to tell early but he looks to have a good punch and what they call “heavy hands,” meaning that when he gets hold of somebody, they are under his control.
This year’s first-round draft pick, Germain Ifedi, should be a lock at right guard. He’s so sharp and such a quick learner that Cable had him coach the other linemen on a package installation already. Cable said he’s never done that with a rookie.
The thing that has impressed me so far is that he’s a guy who played a stand-up right tackle in Texas A&M’s spread offense, but already looks pretty comfortable getting in and out of a 3-point stance. It’s probably been very rare that he’s had to fire out low and drive block in college, but something that will be the bread and butter of his job with the Seahawks.
I keep thinking that his 36-inch arms might be going to waste in the long run at guard, and he’ll eventually end up at right tackle.
We haven’t seen how much nasty he has in him during the non-contact stuff, nor how quick his feet are in pass protection. In drills, though, while picking up stunts and blitzes, he seems to have been a quick-learner.
Britt’s move to center was a bit of a surprise. I think they’re still trying to find a configuration in which he’s one of the best-five guys. Being moved from right tackle to left guard and now to center in his first three seasons seems an obvious sign that he hasn’t been able to solidify his role.
He’s a strong, smart and a try-hard guy (not to mention a second-round draft pick), but he still has a lot to prove. And I think in a lot of ways center is a tougher position to master than guard.
If Britt can’t make center his own, the Seahawks have shown they can win with Patrick Lewis starting there. They also drafted TCU center Joey Hunt, who looks stout but undersized at 6-foot, 299. If he’s smart and nasty enough, the height won’t be that much of an impediment at center.
A few other guys look like interesting projects, including tackle George Fant, listed at 6-6, 296, who played one year of football at Western Kentucky after having played basketball for the Hilltoppers. He has a 37-inch vertical jump and a 4.83 40.
Kristjan Sokoli, a seventh-round pick in 2015, is another impressive athlete who was a converted defensive tackle still learning the intricacies of the offensive line.
The drafting of Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett also could affect the way the O-line operates. Vannett’s receiving has been a little inconsistent in the practices we’ve been allowed to see, but his real value would be in his blocking, reputed to be very good.
The Hawks haven’t had a really good tight end who can seal the edge or effectively help chip in pass protection since Zach Miller was healthy.