RENTON — If Seahawks right tackle Germain Ifedi has proved to be a steady presence in Seattle’s lineup since being taken in the first round in 2016 — he has started 49 of a possible 53 games — he also remains a work in progress.
One thing Ifedi has learned in his three-plus years, though, is the value of preparation and studying an opponent.
“You’ve got to know them a little better than they know themselves by Sunday,’’ Ifedi said.
That will require less studying than usual this week for Ifedi, who will often find himself lining up across from Cleveland standout defensive end Myles Garrett, who is second in the NFL in sacks with seven. Garrett and Ifedi were teammates at Texas A&M in 2014 and 2015, and Ifedi said that especially in Garrett’s first year the two regularly faced off against each other in practice (Garrett’s position changed a bit his second year, he said).
“We had some battles,’’ Ifedi said of Garrett, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft and had 13.5 sacks last season to earn his first Pro Bowl berth.
“He was always a very mild-mannered guy,’’ Ifedi said. “Just did his work and went about his work really professionally. He came in and was mature beyond his years.’’
Getting a chance to play against Garrett again, now that each is in the NFL as a former first-round pick, is “real fun that it has come full-circle this year,’’ Ifedi said.
For Ifedi, the matchup with Garrett is also another chance to prove that the Seahawks mean it when they say of Ifedi that “this is the best he’s played,’’ as coach Pete Carroll put it Wednesday.
“He’s played the most consistent football, clearly,’’ Carroll said. “He’s doing a good job. He’s played tough and he’s been really steady and all that. There are always things that we’re working on with all of our guys. He’s got his things.’’
The way the football analytic site Pro Football Focus sees it, Ifedi still has lots of “things” to work on.
PFF has Ifedi with an overall grade of 50.1, which is 50th among NFL tackles with enough snaps to qualify and down from his grade of 55.1 a year ago. PFF judges Ifedi as giving up three sacks, tied for the sixth-most, and 25 pressures allowed, six coming last week against the Rams, which was the most of any Seahawk.
Not that the PFF rankings are gospel, and offensive linemen in particular often seem to chafe at them, saying they don’t always take into account (or have any way to know with any accuracy) what a player’s specific assignment was. The Seahawks themselves, though, made somewhat of an acknowledgment that they still want to see more from Ifedi when they declined last spring to pick up an option on his contract for the 2020 season that would have paid him $10.3 million. Instead, he will make $1.577 million this year on the final season of his four-year rookie contract and can then become a free agent afterward.
Ifedi said again this week he wasn’t bothered by the team’s decision, saying, “Both sides still have plenty of flexibility to do whatever we want to do going forward, so it doesn’t inhibit anything. It doesn’t show anything. It was just another transaction that had to be made by a certain date.’’
Still, Ifedi’s future here is far from certain, and games like this Sunday and going against unquestionably good players such as Garrett will tell the Seahawks a lot.
Carroll and offensive-line coach Mike Solari each say they have seen significant improvement in Ifedi’s pass-blocking over the last year or so, particularly in the consistency of his pass sets, or his stances after the snap.
“His pass sets have been an issue for us over time that we’re trying to get him to settle into a couple technical things that we work on that have been a little hard for him to adjust and change to over time,’’ Carroll said. “He’s the best he’s been. He’s getting better.”
Ifedi says that, in particular, he feels he’s gotten better at getting to the spot quicker to fend off rushers and getting his hands where they need to be faster and more consistently.
And if PFF might question how Ifedi has played so far, Ifedi says, “It’s been good. Went against some damn good players and made them look pretty normal. We’re 4-1, wish we were 5-0. But we are just looking at the next opponent, getting better and learning off of every game, and just continue building.’’
Ifedi will have a chance Sunday against an old friend to let actions speak much more loudly than words.