NFC West: Nate Solder

The trade sending Gabe Carimi from the Chicago Bears to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shines light on the 2011 draft for offensive linemen.

I've singled out the first round because that is where the Seattle Seahawks selected James Carpenter that year.

Carpenter started immediately, only to suffer a devastating knee injury during his rookie season. He returned to play in seven games last season, but the knee held him back. Carpenter lasted seven games. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee this offseason in another attempt to right the knee.

Coach Pete Carroll called the surgery a success and said Carpenter will compete for playing time this season. There are still question marks.

Imagine how different the NFC West might look if the Seahawks had used the 25th overall choice in the 2011 draft for Colin Kaepernick instead of Carpenter. Seattle needed a quarterback at the time. Kaepernick was available and would go to the San Francisco 49ers with the 36th overall choice.

It's 20-20 hindsight now, of course. Injuries have prevented Carpenter, Carimi and fellow 2011 first-round offensive lineman Derek Sherrod from contributing much. Sherrod suffered a broken leg during his rookie season and is still fighting his way back. Carimi appeared to be on a promising path before a knee injury ended his 2011 season. Carimi underwent multiple surgeries and hasn't been the same.

Seattle went into the 2011 draft wanting to rebuild its offensive line. Carpenter was supposed to become the team's right tackle opposite 2010 first-round choice Russell Okung. Carpenter will project to guard when he returns.
Twenty-one 2011 first-round draft picks have started at least one preseason game this summer.

Seattle's James Carpenter is the only one from the NFC West to start so far. He has struggled in pass protection while showing promise in the running game. Like some other rookie offensive linemen -- Green Bay's Derek Sherrod comes to mind -- Carpenter is facing growing pains in his transition to the NFL.

Arizona's Patrick Peterson is the only player drafted among the top six overall picks without a start. He returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown Saturday night. The Cardinals like their depth at cornerback. Coach Ken Whisenhunt also tends to make rookies earn their starting spots. Greg Toler's injury could lead to increased snaps for Peterson.

The two first-round NFC West pass-rushers, Aldon Smith (San Francisco) and Robert Quinn (St. Louis), are easing into their roles. Smith has at times looked like a favorite to start right away, but he continues working with the backups. The Rams have no plans to push Quinn into the starting lineup right away. They're set at defensive end. Quinn could use seasoning after missing the 2010 season.

Three of the 11 first-rounders without starts this summer have been sidelined by injuries: Nick Fairley (Detroit), Prince Amukamara (New York Giants) and Jon Baldwin (Kansas City).

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Highlights and interpretations from Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider's recent conversation with Sports Radio 950 KJR's Mitch Levy (thanks for the assist, by the way):
  • The team plans to find its starting left guard in free agency. Addressing the quarterback situation and the defensive line will also be high priorities. Schneider said the Seahawks have multiple quarterback plans. He said there was a 50-50 chance Charlie Whitehurst would go into training camp as the starter. That was his way of not answering a question that would be difficult to answer.
  • Tackle Nate Solder was the college offensive lineman Seattle rated highest. James Carpenter, the player Seattle drafted at No. 25, was second on Seattle's list. The team saw him as a guard/tackle that would project at right tackle for Seattle. The first four offensive linemen drafted: Tyron Smith (ninth to Dallas), Mike Pouncey (15th to Miami), Solder (17th to New England), Anthony Castonzo (22nd to Indianapolis) and Danny Watkins (23rd to Philadelphia). Did the Seahawks' reach for Carpenter? Time will tell, but they obviously had him rated higher than Gabe Carimi and Derek Sherrod, who went 29th and 32nd, respectively. No more offensive linemen were selected until the 46th pick.
  • The Seahawks thought Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Buffalo and Cleveland liked Carpenter enough to take him early. Those teams held picks between Nos. 26 and 34. The Browns traded back to No. 26 and then forward to No. 21, where the team took Phil Taylor. Seattle had an offer for the 25th pick from Pittsburgh and used the full time allotment before staying in the spot. Schneider: "When Cleveland moved back, there were questions regarding Phil Taylor's medical. Cleveland was the other team that was really high on James. When they traded back with Atlanta, I thought they were going to stay put (at No. 26) and take James."
  • Schneider said the Mushroom Group, a collection of old-school line coaches (is there any other kind?), loved Carpenter. There wasn't much buzz about Carpenter and Schneider said he tried to keep it that way by misleading a national reporter before the draft. The reporter had asked Schneider for surprise first-round selections along the lines of Tyson Alualu, the player Jacksonville picked 10th overall in 2010. Schneider said he thought about Carpenter, but provided another name to the reporter. The Seahawks loved Carpenter's toughness and versatility. Those qualities were at a premium after the team used 11 starting combinations on its line last season.
  • It sounded like Seattle was never serious about drafting a quarterback early. Schneider: "As much respect as we had for Andy Dalton and everything, it was hard to figure out where to take this guy (Carpenter) and finally I said, 'Let's take him here.' " More on Dalton later.
  • Seattle did not feel comfortable using choices for players with off-field concerns. Schneider applauded Baltimore for taking cornerback Jimmy Smith, noting that the Ravens' locker room had enough established veterans to handle the situation. He said the Seahawks weren't in position to make such a move at this stage.
  • Minnesota called the Seahawks about moving up into the 99th slot, where the Seahawks took linebacker K.J. Wright. Schneider: "We almost made a trade with Minnesota. They called. I wanted more picks. We hadn't addressed the defensive side of the ball ... and we decided to sit there and pick K.J. Minnesota called and they were like, 'You guys, that was our guy.' " The Vikings took defensive tackle Christian Ballard at No. 106.
  • Selecting receiver Kris Durham in the fourth round drew criticism from draft analysts. Schneider differentiated between those analysts and the real ones when answering a question on the matter. Schneider: "I'm pretty sure people in the league were on top of it. A lot of people had him, some in the third, some in the fourth, fifth round, right in that area."
  • The Seahawks will be targeting 6-8 players as undrafted free agents. The team considered all of them draftable. The list includes a safety, linebacker and quarterback.
  • Schneider joked about luring Trent Dilfer out of retirement to play quarterback. Dilfer, of course, criticized the Seahawks' draft, specifically the decision to pass over Dalton. Without that pointed criticism, I doubt Schneider would have mentioned Dalton in the above-referenced comment about taking Carpenter.

On Carpenter, the pick would look like a reach if Seattle had taken him just as the run on offensive linemen was ending. But with two more tackles coming off the board right after Seattle picked, it was clear the Seahawks had him rated high enough to take at No. 25.

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