Month: August 2015 (Page 2 of 2)

Seahawks swap Justin Britt to guard, Garry Gilliam to RT

Gary Gilliam is getting a chance at right tackle

“We have to get better”

“We can’t go out there, struggle early in games and take some hits that we don’t need to take”

“We couldn’t wait much longer to do this”

…The words of Pete Carroll today following a concerning opening pre-season performance from his offensive line.

It isn’t usual for a team to have question marks at three O-line positions heading into the second week of a pre-season game. Lines rely on chemistry and understanding to succeed. Carroll’s choice of words above is certainly justified.

This is a concern.

That’s not to say Seattle’s line play has always been flawless. Nevertheless, Breno Giacomini did a better job making the right tackle spot his own compared to James Carpenter and now Justin Britt. After a year of Chris Spencer, Max Unger became the bonafide starter at center. Carpenter, for all his inconsistencies, never appeared truly troubled after switching to left guard.

This year Alvin Bailey hasn’t done enough to nail down a guard spot — despite seemingly being given every opportunity to do so. Lemuel Jeanpierre’s familiarity is being seriously challenged by Drew Nowak’s upside — yet it doesn’t seem either player has really separated from the other.

Now there’s another possible switch in the offing. After a sometimes torrid rookie season at right tackle, Justin Britt is being tried at left guard. Carroll, in his typical fashion, talked the move up as a review of Garry Gilliam’s good play in camp. They want to see him at right tackle. That’s fair enough — they clearly rate and trust Gilliam.

It’s also a move they haven’t tried one single time before Britt’s poor display against Denver on Friday. A lousy attempt to block Von Miller was a steady reminder of his struggles with pass protection. As much as this might be a chance for Gilliam, it’s also a sign that Britt might not make it as a right tackle in the NFL.

The Seahawks found themselves in a tricky spot in 2014. After deciding to go receiver (Paul Richardson) with their first pick instead of an offensive lineman — they left open the possibility they might miss out on the O-line class altogether. It was a somewhat risky move given the superb depth at receiver that year and the minimal riches at tackle or guard.

Having owned the #32 pick after winning the Super Bowl, they traded down twice to #45. Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo went at #33, tackle Joel Bitonio at #35, center Weston Richberg was drafted at #43 and Cyrus Kouandjio at #44. This quartet have had mixed fortunes with the exception of Bitonio — a blog favourite before the 2014 draft. Even so, this constitutes a small rush and diminished the O-line options.

Seattle took Richardson who they clearly really liked and waited until pick #64 to take an offensive lineman. After Jack Mewhort was taken by the Colts at #59 — options were running out. The Seahawks didn’t have a third round pick because of the Percy Harvin trade and pulled off a minor shock when they took little-known Justin Britt (a player many graded in the later rounds).

It seemed slightly desperate. Tom Cable usually hands a list of candidates he likes to John Schneider. It’s apparent that list was running dry by #64 and a reach was worthwhile to land at least one of the names. Britt fit the profile.

Unfortunately it’s at least somewhat possible he’ll be Seattle’s second failed early round pick at right tackle after James Carpenter in 2011.

It’d be easy to use hindsight to second guess the 2014 draft. Bitonio has shone in Cleveland while the likes of Davante Adams, Jarvis Landry and Martavis Bryant have performed well after being taken around or beyond the #64 pick. Richardson’s injury and Britt’s play makes it easier to wonder what could’ve been. The Seahawks don’t have any time for that — and it’s why they’re making these moves.

Britt at guard seems like a much more comfortable fit. His short arms and struggles in space 1v1 will be less extreme playing in-between a tackle and center. Gilliam is a superior athlete with superior footwork and length. He has a better chance to deal with some of the athletes playing edge rush in the NFL.

It’s yet another walk into the unknown though. Can Britt and Gilliam adjust? How alarming is it that the Seahawks are still some way off knowing their best five guys and their best five positions on the offensive line?

Have they done a good enough job drafting for the O-line? They didn’t whiff on Okung or former project J.R. Sweezy — but they missed on Carpenter and John Moffitt. Britt could go either way at this stage.

The uncertainty could linger into the season. They might still be working this out a few weeks in. That’s why I think it could be partially responsible for a possible 0-2 start before a likely ‘worst case’ 4-1 to follow.

The fear is the Seahawks have gone from a functioning if far from elite O-line to an inexperienced, unfamiliar unit lacking in quality.

Hopefully this latest change will provide some stability up front. It’s absolutely necessary and critical if the Seahawks are to start as they mean to go on in 2015.

Another dynamic to consider — the only two somewhat reliable starters (Okung and Sweezy) are both free agents in 2016. If they want to improve the line and avoid further issues in the future, these two might end up being priority re-signs in the off-season.

O-line issues dogging NFL, not just Seahawks

Eric Fisher has struggled since entering the league

NFL teams are facing a crisis. A situation that could potentially challenge the game for a generation.

Offensive linemen are struggling in the modern era.

It’s no real surprise. We’ve talked for years on this blog about the top High School athletes choosing to play defense. The big schools are rich in defensive line talent. The O-line positions are being shunned as a consequence — and there’s a significant mismatch developing in college football.

This is starting to filter into the leagues and have an impact. College teams are adapting their offenses to counter the problem and it’s playing at least some part in the increase in high-octane spread schemes. The quicker you get the ball out the less reliance on your O-line to block that 5-star recruit. Offenses are being simplified to the Nth degree.

O-liners aren’t being coached to prepare for the NFL. They appear to be being coached to survive merely in college.

Mark Schlereth went on Brock and Salk last week and talked about the time he’s spent helping the Denver Broncos O-line during training camp. He spoke openly about the lack of technique Denver’s young O-line had shown and criticised the way young linemen are being prepared for the NFL.

I watched several NFL pre-season games over the last two days and it’ll be at least some comfort to Seahawks fans that their team isn’t the only one with issues. As the older generation of linemen move on — teams are trying to install younger players into their scheme with seriously mixed results.

The Dallas Cowboys have crafted the best line in football with sound judgement and big investment. Their left tackle, center and one of their guards were drafted in the first round. It also helps that Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin were all really good players in college. Smith was an incredible athlete playing right tackle at USC with limitless potential. Frederick was a technically gifted mauler at Wisconsin and Martin is good enough to play any position on a NFL line. Smart picks, big investment. They’re benefitting as a consequence.

Not every team can go in this direction of course (Smith and Martin were both top-16 picks) but it seems the league is very aware of the problem and clubs are trying to find ways around the issue of more athletic defensive lines. This is partly why we saw Eric Fisher’s dramatic rise to become the #1 overall pick in 2013. He was the best ‘athlete’ at offensive tackle that year. Fisher has generally struggled but you can see the thought process in Kansas City’s pick. Greg Robinson was another quick riser the following year for similar reasons.

In Seattle’s case they’ve collected a number of athletic linemen that fit a specific profile. They’re also quietly setting a new trend — the conversion of defensive linemen into O-liners. More teams are trying this now — even in college. Cam Erving, a recent first round pick by the Browns, originally played defense.

Expect to see more of this over the next few years in college and the NFL. With so many college recruits opting to play D it makes sense that several will be asked to convert like Erving.

Is it going to act as an equaliser though?

That’s the issue really. Can a rag tag bunch of former D-liners be brought together to challenge the best pass rushers (and athletes) in the NFL as they learn on the hop? Or are we destined to see a new era in the NFL where teams have to go the college route and find alternative schemes and systems to compensate for overmatched offenses?

The Seahawks are already kind of doing this by using a mobile quarterback and accepting that their scheme will involve a lot of scrambling, read-option and controlled chaos. Teams like New England and Indianapolis/Denver have been using variations of the spread for years to protect Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Now Chip Kelly’s offense is in the league.

The concept of time in the pocket could very soon be a thing of the past. Mobility, improvisation and composure might develop into the most important characteristics a quarterback can have. It’d be a generational change from the more orthodox pocket passer that has dominated the NFL for years.

Unless the league can find a way to sufficiently match-up against increasingly athletic defensive lines — they’re going to have to consider new schemes, styles and variations. Just like many college teams. That in turn could help the transition from college-to-NFL for offensive lineman. But otherwise it could be a real struggle for teams to protect up front.


In terms of Seattle’s O-line performance last night — it was scarily bad at times. I made a podcast appearance with Kenneth Arthur during the summer and suggested a raw, untested O-line could cost Seattle the first two games of the season (@ St. Louis, @ Green Bay). It wouldn’t be any reason to panic with a less formidable part of the schedule to follow — but 0-2 isn’t out of the question and the line could be the reason why.

It’s clear whoever eventually does start needs time — and that’s before we even question whether the talent is good enough. The Seahawks are hoping that later round picks and UDFA’s can fill the holes left by players drafted early (James Carpenter, Max Unger).

Facing a frightening Rams D-line on the opening weekend and needing to go to Green Bay to follow will be a serious test of what appears to be a weak or at least inexperienced group. The #1’s were manhandled in the Denver game.

The right side of Sweezy and Britt will always be better against the run than the pass. The revolving door at left guard and center during camp is yet to provide any clarity. At least Russell Okung is healthy and looks in good shape. At this stage, 16 games from Okung feels absolutely vital.

If they had any cap room we could take about Evan Mathis. He appears to be holding out for the kind of money Seattle simply cannot afford. An extra experienced, cool head on that O-line seems critical at the moment.

An underrated aspect of an O-line is familiarity. The best lines work as a group with genuine chemistry. It’s very hard for the Seahawks to develop that in pre-season when two spots are up for grabs — including the starting center.

We’ve often played down the O-line struggles in the past on this blog. Part of Seattle’s mantra is to invite pressure and get Wilson on the move. Yet things seem a little more serious this year and we need to see progress next week against the Chiefs. Tom Cable has a real test on his hands.

Discussing the future of Russell Okung in Seattle

Russell Okung is entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2015

The Seahawks have several prospective free agents in 2016 including punter Jon Ryan, running back Robert Turbin and the current longest serving player on the roster Brandon Mebane. Three other starters are set to make the open market — Bruce Irvin, J.R. Sweezy and Russell Okung.

Today I want to focus on Okung.

Firstly, can he play a full 16 games in the regular season? His injury issues are slightly exaggerated — he hasn’t had a serious knee injury for example or missed considerable time like Ryan Clady. The most games he’s missed in a single season is eight in 2013. He’s consistently missed 1-5 games each year since arriving in Seattle. Not ideal, but far from a reason alone not to give him a new contract.

If he can feature in all 16 games for the first time in his career in 2015, he’ll really strengthen his hand going into free agency. The Seahawks will perhaps feel inclined to try and maintain some consistency on their offensive line (more on that in a moment) while other teams will be reassured to give him a good contract to tempt him away.

If he misses more time it strengthens Seattle’s position at the negotiating table and might weaken interest on the open market. For that reason the Seahawks are probably prepared to let this year play out rather than get into serious negotiations right now.

Aside from the health situation, how does Okung rate compared to his peers in the NFL? Joe Thomas (25), Tyron Smith (36), Jason Peters (40) and Trent Williams (47) were the only offensive tackles listed in the NFL’s recent top-100 list. We’re going through an era that lacks truly elite left tackles in the Walter Jones, Orlando Pace and Jonathan Ogden mould. The game has changed and for years the best athletes in college football have chosen to play defense not offense. It’s one of the reasons why the Seahawks are taking SPARQ-ed up D-liners and trying them at guard. Pure college guards are generally no longer athletic enough to transition to the pro’s where they face increasingly formidable athletes. Any left tackle that performs admirably at the combine is getting vaulted up the boards — it’s why Eric Fisher was the #1 overall pick in 2013.

The number of first round busts at the position also appears to be increasing. Fisher has been a big disappointment. Luke Joeckel — the #2 pick in 2013 — has struggled with injury and performance. 2014 top-ten picks Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews didn’t have great rookie seasons. What was once considered a ‘safe pick’ has become more of an unknown.

The league is craving for good offensive tackles. Teams are taking chances. It’s becoming a bit of a crapshoot considering the third tackle taken in 2013 — Lane Johnson — has enjoyed a good start to his career.

If Thomas, Smith, Peters and Williams really are the NFL’s current ‘elite’ at the position, Okung isn’t far away. Although he might be some way off the Hall-of-Fame tackle he replaced in Seattle, Okung is a relative safe pair of hands that might be difficult to replace with a cheaper, unknown commodity in the draft. In an era without many fantastic left tackles, having a good one might be more valuable than you’d imagine.

Okung is the only consistent member of Pete Carroll, John Schneider and Tom Cable’s offensive line. Left guard, center, right guard and right tackle — different players have taken turns to start for Seattle over the years. 2016 will provide the first opportunity to see how they approach the left tackle position and whether they see that as a movable cog too. Okung was the first draft pick this front office made when they arrived in 2010. He’s played out his rookie contract in full. Do they let him walk? Or do they see him as part of the growing core to receive a contract extension?

While teams like Dallas and Cleveland load their offensive lines with first round talent the Seahawks seem to be taking the opposite approach. They appear to be saving money on the O-line to use elsewhere. It’s a display of trust in Tom Cable’s methods that he can put a group of guys together on the cheap and create a functioning line. We’ve seen mixed results so far, but the constant change on a year-to-year basis is partly responsible there.

It makes you wonder if they believe they can succeed without top players on the O-line in a way others can’t. After all, they were winning games with Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie playing tackle in 2013 — the season they won the Super Bowl. It made for ugly viewing at times with pass protection particularly suffering. The Seahawks might feel like they have enough weapons to compensate for any similar problems in 2015:

— Russell Wilson is the most elusive quarterback in the NFL

— The ground game continues to prosper

— Jimmy Graham’s presence will give Wilson an easy out and keep defenses honest when it comes to the blitz/pass rush

— The threat of the read option adds a dynamic to Seattle’s offense that also troubles opponents

Other teams don’t necessarily have this luxury. The Cowboys have Dez Bryant but also a 35-year-old quarterback with back issues who isn’t very mobile and needs protection. They are hoping their offensive line can be the key to a productive running game with either Joseph Randle or Darren McFadden benefitting from good blocking. They don’t have Marshawn Lynch and a good running quarterback so a really good offensive line is more important.

The Wilson-Lynch-Graham trifecta will create problems and will make plays irrespective of the performance of the offensive line. The downside is we’ll probably see more games next year where Wilson is having to move around a lot to avoid pressure.

Sometimes you have to pick your poison.

With the Seahawks paying nearly $100m to just ten players on their roster, they need to save money somewhere. It could be they’ve decided in Cable they have a coach that, like Alex Gibbs previously, can get the most out of a group of blockers. That in part helps you keep the LOB, Wilson, Lynch, Wagner etc.

That doesn’t mean they can’t pay any offensive linemen. We’ll see how far they want to take this possible plan when Okung and J.R. Sweezy head closer to free agency next year. Mark Glowinski in terms of athleticism and style looks like a Sweezy clone and he’s being worked at right guard in training camp. Danny O’Neil mentioned yesterday that the Seahawks have a lot of time for Gary Gilliam as a left tackle prospect and could see him as a possible replacement for Okung one day.

Some fans will cringe at the possibility of a 2016 starting offensive line that goes Gilliam-Bailey-Nowak-Glowinski-Britt. Yet the willingness to trade Max Unger this year shows they aren’t afraid to make an eyebrow-raising move or two on the O-line or go with a youth movement. They’re willing to take chances on young, cheap talent. They brought in a collection of young players in the draft to compete this year. And again, they need to save money somewhere.

Tom Cable might be viewed as the MVP of the offensive line, rather than any particular player.

They’ve also shown they’re still willing to draft O-liners early (see: Justin Britt, round two in 2014). In my final 2015 mock draft I had them taking Mitch Morse in round two. He was taken a few picks before Seattle’s choice by the Kansas City Chiefs. Who knows if he would’ve been the pick otherwise — but he certainly ticked a lot of boxes.

Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss), Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State), Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame) and Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State) are early favourites to go in the first round next year. Decker in particular has that nasty road-grading style that appears to suit Seattle’s offense. Tackles tend to go early, whether the Seahawks will have the chance to get anywhere near a top blocker in 2016 remains to be seen. They could have options though.

One dynamic that should also be considered is the competitive nature of Okung, the respect he commands in the locker room and his recent decision to go into free agency minus an agent. He completes a six-year, $48.5m contract in 2015 so he’s already earned the money a lot of his teammates are now collecting.

That’s not to say he’s going to accept a really cheap deal to stay in Seattle. Far from it. But he will be negotiating from a position of relative security. If he wants to stay a Seahawk and if the team wishes to retain his services — there’s probably a deal to be done there. We just don’t know how invested each party is in retaining this current working relationship.

Another thing O’Neil mentioned in the link above is the possibility Okung might be better suited to a more pass-friendly offense focused on protection. Seattle’s physical style and penchant for the run-game could be one of the reasons their left tackle (and other members of the O-line) frequently gets banged up. Will a different style of offense suit Okung? It might be something he’s considering.

Of Seattle’s three ‘big name’ 2016 free agents, it’ll possibly be easier to retain Okung and Sweezy over Bruce Irvin. There’s a statistical advantage that comes with playing defense (I got 6-7 sacks last year playing linebacker, look what I could do in your scheme). He’s versatile enough to work in the 4-3 or the 3-4 at end or linebacker. Aside from one four-game suspension he’s stayed clear of any off-field distractions that concerned some teams pre-draft. He’s still a terrific athlete. And there are two former Seahawks defensive coordinators now working as Head Coaches.

If Irvin departs it leaves even more room to consider signing up Okung and/or Sweezy. The cap likely increasing by another 7-8% also helps. Overall that looks like an attractive proposition — retain some consistency up front, keep your depth and free up the opportunity to consider other need areas in the draft (DT, CB, RB).

Bobby Wagner agrees new deal, Tony McDaniel cut

Despite a somewhat sulky tweet on Friday this seemed just as inevitable as Russell Wilson’s new contract. Luke Kuechly is a genuine NFL star. A generational talent who happens to play a position of moderate importance. The fact Bobby Wagner frequently gets compared to Kuechly (many consider them equals) is exactly why the Seahawks had to do this deal.

When Jamaal Charles ran all over the Seahawks in week 11 last season it was assumed the absence of Brandon Mebane was the key issue. Seattle’s defense had it’s poorest performance of the season immediately after he was put on injured reserve.

Wagner also didn’t play in the Chiefs game due to injury. He returned the following week against Arizona. Seattle won out to finish the regular season conceding just 39 points in 6 games (6.5 per game average). Mebane’s absence was unhelpful. Wagner’s absence and subsequent return was pivotal.

He’s not the most charismatic member of the team (as evidenced by a defensive press conference on Friday). I’m not sure he’s one of the big defensive voices in the locker room like a Sherman, Thomas, Bennett or Chancellor — but he is ideal for this team.

Pete Carroll said before the 2012 draft he wanted to add speed in the front seven as a priority. The first two picks that year were Bruce Irvin and Wagner. As Seattle moved away from the Leroy Hill/David Hawthorne profile, they needed a quicker inside presence who could still do all the basic duties of a MIKE. It’s testament to Wagner’s athletic profile that he could probably play the SAM or WILL equally well. He’s just an all-round terrific athlete and football player.

We talked about him as a late first-round talent that year and it came out after the draft that Dallas were going to draft him had they not moved up for Morris Claiborne. The Seahawks got a steal in round two. In fairness the draft not only offered Kuechly in the top-ten but also Wagner, Mychal Kendricks and Lavonte David in the second frame — ideal for any team looking to add speed at linebacker.

You don’t get many drafts like that — or many ultra-athletic middle linebackers. The Seahawks feel it when Wagner’s not there and he’d be difficult to replace. They couldn’t let him walk — especially given the relative value in terms of salary. Around $10m per year is high for a linebacker — but it’s not high compared to many other positions. Wagner is certainly one of Seattle’s better players and to keep him at that cost for the foreseeable future is, if anything, pretty good value.

Seattle now has most of its core signed up for at least the next three seasons: Wilson, Lynch, Graham, Bennett, Avril, Wright, Chancellor, Thomas, Sherman and Wagner. The structure they’ve used (plus the ever growing salary cap) will enable them to keep even more of their stars moving forward.

Davis Hsu told me today he expects the cap to increase by 7-8% next year at about $154m. It’s currently at $143.28m. That should leave enough room for a shot at keeping at least two of Russell Okung, J.R. Sweezy and Bruce Irvin.

The salary cap makes it hard to create a dynasty. The Seahawks are proving it isn’t impossible. The average age of the group listed above is 27. You’re looking at a Championship window of at least 3-4 more years with this crew, with two Super Bowl appearances already in the bag. However badly that last game stung, the Seahawks still have a chance to be known as the team of this decade.

I watched back a few 2014 games this week and one thing I noticed in some of the tougher wins late in the season was the performance of Tony McDaniel. Big, stout and difficult to move. He wasn’t a flashy player who made numerous splash players — but he was still a force.

The Seahawks had to create some room after signing Wilson and Wagner and McDaniel is the unfortunate sacrifice. He was taking up $3m in cap space with no dead money attached. Seattle has Mebane back and healthy, Jordan Hill who really stepped up in 2014 and now Ahtyba Rubin comes into the mix. There are several other rotational pieces working out in camp, including the returning Demarcus Dobbs.

This is the way it’s going to be for the Seahawks moving forward. Look back at 2012 and you’ll see how much this team has changed in just three years. Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Leon Washington, Golden Tate, Max Unger, Zach Miller, Michael Robinson, Brandon Browner, Sidney Rice. All crucial back in the day — now gone. The Seahawks have kept the core and been forced to move on elsewhere. They will continue to lose players they’d rather keep down the road. The key is to know when to move on. New England and Bill Belichick have mastered this over the years and it’s kept them competitive.

Who can you live without? That is the question.

Can they afford to lose a pretty good if not elite left tackle in Russell Okung? Can they replace him with a late first round pick? That’s not usually where you find starting left tackles. That reason, plus his obvious locker room respect and leadership qualities, might make him a priority. Playing all 16-games and a full post-season would aid his cause.

He seems to like it in Seattle. He joined the league before the new CBA so agreed a $48.5m contract as a rookie in 2010. He’s already earned the money several of his team mates are now chasing. Firing his agent to go alone this off-season is an interesting dynamic and suggests he might be prepared to do what feels right.

It also looks like a very promising offensive tackle class for 2016 — something to consider.

J.R. Sweezy continues to improve every year. He too would preferably be a sure-fire keep — and yet he’s a former defensive tackle and seventh round pick converted to guard. The Seahawks might feel they can replace him with a Mark Glowinski on the cheap to save cap space.

Then there’s Bruce Irvin — who developed into one of the more underrated defensive playmakers in the NFL last season. Pick-six’s, sacks, sideline-to-sideline coverage and better than expected work against the run — Irvin was generally fantastic in 2014. It’ll be hard to find a player with his unique athleticism in the draft or free agency. They chose not to take up his fifth year option though, leading to at least some angst and more than one reported quote about a desire to play in Atlanta. He’d have a market in free agency and might be too expensive to keep.

We should also talk about the future of Mebane. He’s the longest serving Seahawk on the roster for a reason. If he stays healthy and continues to perform — is he worth another deal? He turns 31 in January.

There are many things to consider and while this remains a loaded roster, the question marks over several players will give us plenty of scope to monitor different positions in preparation for the 2016 draft.

The Seahawks made a similar move for Marcus Burley last year. The depth at corner isn’t strong at the moment — with a lot of pressure on guys like Tye Smith to make the jump from Towson University to the NFL. With Jeremy Lane potentially missing the whole season at the very least Seattle needs more camp competition and Seisay provides that.

He managed a 39 inch vertical at his pro-day and an 11′ broad jump. He runs in the 4.50’s at 6-1 and +200lbs. He’s very Seahawky.

Newer posts »

© 2024 Seahawks Draft Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑