Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Will the Seahawks' O-line be better?
By Terry Blount
Before training camp begins in 10 days, here's a look (by position) at how the Seattle Seahawks stack up going in and whether the team is improved or will need help at that spot.
Let's start with the offensive line, which probably was the team's weakest area last season, but still good enough to help win the Super Bowl.
Left tackle -- Better
Russell Okung is a Pro-Bowl caliber player when he's healthy, but he wasn't healthy most of last season.
He missed half the regular season with a torn ligament in a big toe. Okung returned for the season's second half and toughed it out, still injured. He played well, but not up to his normal standards.
Okung had surgery in the offseason to repair the ligament. He is expected to return for camp, but it's likely the Seahawks will take it slow with him and make sure he's 100 percent for the regular season. If all goes according to plan, there's no question the left tackle spot will be back to Pro Bowl-level this season.
Left guard -- Better
Last season, James Carpenter arrived at camp overweight, out of shape and not ready to play. He admits now he wasn't able to run full speed because of continuing knee problems. Paul McQuistan started six games at left guard and would have started more, but had to move to left tackle following Okung's injury.
But Carpenter looks like a new man. He has lost 15 pounds and says he's 100 percent healthy for the first time in a long time. He is running and moving better than he did at any time last season. Carpenter is a bulldozer of a run-blocker and should be much improved this season as a pass-blocker.
Center -- Better
This is similar to the Okung situation. Max Unger is a Pro Bowl-level center, but injuries last season may have dropped him half a notch at times. He only missed three games, but was playing with injuries a good part of the year. He also had players around him who were less than stellar at times. A healthy Unger can be as good as any center in the NFL.
Right guard -- Better
If for no other reason, experience has made J.R. Sweezy better. He going into his third year at the position and his second full year as the starter. Remember, this is a guy who was a defensive lineman in college the Seahawks converted to a guard. Offensive line coach Tom Cable believes Sweezy is one of the most underrated players in the league and a guy who will continue to get better.
Right tackle -- Not as good
At least not at first. Losing veteran starter Breno Giacomini to free agency meant the Seahawks needed to find an answer at that spot. It's down to a battle between second-year player Michael Bowie and rookie Justin Britt, a second-round draft choice from Missouri.
Fans were critical of Giacomini at times because of his problems with penalties, but they found out last season that things could be a lot worse after he injured his knee and missed seven games. The Seahawks had to start Bowie as a rookie. It was a disaster at times, especially in pass protection.
Bowie improved as his playing time increased, but Giacomini probably played the best football of his career when he returned for the second half of the season.
The coaches are high on Britt, who does look polished for a rookie. But he's still a rookie learning new protections and Cable's complex zone-blocking schemes. Bowie wasn't in the best of shape for the offseason workouts, but he's a strong guy who learned a lot last season.
Britt likely is the long-term answer, but he's going to take his lumps at first (especially in the rugged NFC West, with so many talented defensive ends) if he starts as a rookie.
Depth -- Better
The depth was an issue last season when the Seahawks had to start a rookie seventh-round draft pick after Giacomini got hurt. The team also had to move McQuistan from guard to left tackle (not his best spot) when Okung got hurt.
McQuistan signed with the Browns in free agency, but the depth situation should be better this season. First, Bowie and Alvin Bailey (who can play guard or tackle) have a year's experience under their belts after a baptism by fire as rookies. Britt has a bright future as a quality NFL starter.