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Why did Garry Gilliam switch from left tackle back to right before even one preseason game?

Last week, Garry Gilliam went from the presumed starting left tackle since May back to the No. 1 right tackle, the spot he had last season. Why?
Last week, Garry Gilliam went from the presumed starting left tackle since May back to the No. 1 right tackle, the spot he had last season. Why? AP

KANSAS CITY, Mo. J’Marcus Webb’s right knee remains, to use coach Pete Carroll’s word, “twisted.” The presumed starting right tackle remains iffy for the Seahawks’ second preseason game Thursday against Minnesota.

So I have a question. A few, actually.

It’s the same ones many of you have had since Webb got hurt Tuesday through Saturday’s win over the Chiefs here in the preseason opener.

Why did Seattle move Garry Gilliam from his new job starting at left tackle, which he’s been working on since May, to replace Webb at right tackle? Why make Bradley Sowell, expected to be the reserve, “swing” tackle for both sides this season, the new starting left tackle? Why not just put Sowell on the right and keep Gilliam where he’d been all spring and summer?

Though he started all last season at right tackle, shouldn’t Gilliam be getting every game snap available at left tackle this preseason, before the stakes get real next month for whoever ends up being the blindside protector for $88-million quarterback Russell Wilson? Shouldn’t the Seahawks be seeing what Gilliam looks like there in a preseason before seemingly abandoning his bid to be the new left tackle? Or, if they move him back to left eventually, why lose at least a week and one of what are really three preseason-game trials (the starters barely play the fourth exhibition, if they play at all)?

“You have to ask Coach Carroll and Coach Cable that,” Gilliam said last week when they made the switch.

So after the preseason opener -- when Sowell played 23 snaps at left tackle, Gilliam 23 at right tackle and the far-from-settled offensive line were the last starters from either team to exit the exhibition -- I asked Coach Carroll and Coach Cable that.

“Because we thought that Bradley had been making pretty good progress,” Carroll said. “We knew we could go back to being solid with Garry on the right side. Not sure how long it’s going to take J’Marcus to get back. In the coming weeks, Garry will go back and play a lot of left side to work in there. I think he did OK (Saturday); we’ll find out when we check out (film).

“Really, it’s to get as solid as we can – as early as we can. I’m excited to see this film. The sooner we can get to it, the better. Want to see what all these guys look like and we’ll know more.”

I took that to mean the coaches weren’t all that impressed with how Gilliam was blocking his teammates while at left tackle in the first nine training-camp practices before the switch, but they are reserving the possibility of moving him back to left tackle.

Then I asked Cable.

“Two things,” the veteran line coach said Saturday in a tunnel of Arrowhead Stadium, on his way to the team bus to the airport. “One, you know he can go over there (to right tackle) to play because he was, you know, there last year. And it gives you another opportunity to see what those other guys can do. So it was kind of the perfect fit.

“We’ll see when we get back where J’Marcus is at, in terms of, you know, getting back to our normal rotation.”

I took that to mean they are still figuring out what “normal” is going to be this season. That may mean Gilliam back to left tackle this week. Or it may mean Sowell stays there, and it’s Webb if he’s healthy at right tackle and Gilliam perhaps there if he’s not. That sounds like they value Webb as the right tackle, but -- as Cable noted last week -- he’s the only tackle that is staying only on one side.

Point is, the Seahawks are where they were last year at this time: Unsettled and unsure on the offensive line less than a month before the season begins.

Carroll and Cable both said, though, they liked how the starting line played at Kansas City. Cable cited some recognition errors before snaps -- identifying the wrong defender to block in the wrong gap -- but said each man executed their job “really, really well. So for first time out, OK.”

Wilson went further when I asked him after the game how close the O-line was to meshing as it needs to for the regular season.

“I think we’re right where we need to be,” the fifth-year starting QB said. “I don’t think we can get too much better in the sense of guys being connected to one another. The calls, the plays we are playing with great tempo, and there’s always room for improvement obviously as you go throughout the season and we’re just starting. We haven’t been this good I don’t think in terms of collective offense since we’ve been here for four years, five years whatever. At this point.

“It’s a great start and we want to start where we finished last year. We want to accelerate. We want to continue to be able to do all of the things we can do.”

Actually, they are behind where they were last year. In 2015 they began the season 0-2, 2-4 and allowing Wilson to get sacked 31 times in the first seven games.

They have, right now, new starters at four of the five positions on the line, the exception being Gilliam at right tackle. Like last summer, they have a center who’s er played a real NFL at the trigger position. Last preseason it was Drew Nowak (remember him?). This month it’s Justin Britt, Seattle’s rookie right tackle in 2014 and starting left guard last season.

When Cable was asked specifically about Sowell, the line coach made it sound as if the former Arizona backup may remain a starter even when and if Webb returns. Cable alluded to Seattle’s zone blocking and need for athletic blockers that can synchronize with each other and the running backs while playing in space.

“The way we do things is a little bit special, a little bit unique,” Cable said of Sowell. “And he’s doing it.”

Where does that leave Gilliam? He -- and we -- are about to find out.

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