It could be argued that Seattle’s entire plan for its offensive line this season is based on some big leaps of faith. But none may be bigger than what the team is thrusting on Gilliam, asking him to play left tackle two years after arriving in the NFL as an undrafted free agent.
With the Seahawks set to report for training camp Friday, with practices beginning the next day, it’s time to continue to look at who I feel are the players most pivotal to the team’s success in 2016.
Call it “16 for ’16” as we will count down the 16 Most Important Seahawks in 2016, unveiling one new player each day until the team reports.
The list continues with a young player making a switch to one of the game’s most important positions.
Player: Garry Gilliam.
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Position: Left tackle.
2016 contract status: Gilliam is in the last season of a three-year deal worth $1.542 million with a base salary of $600,000 in 2016. Gilliam can be a restricted free agent following the 2016 season.
Expected role in 2016: Gilliam is expected to take over as the team’s starting left tackle after starting at right tackle in 2015. He replaces Russell Okung, who departed for Denver via free agency.
Why he’ll be so pivotal to Seattle’s success in 2016: It could be argued that Seattle’s entire plan for its offensive line this season is based on some big leaps of faith — can Justin Britt really make the transition to center? Can first-round pick Germain Ifedi step right in at right guard?
But none may be bigger than what the team is thrusting on Gilliam, asking him to replace Okung at left tackle two years after arriving in the NFL as an undrafted free agent who spent most of his college days playing tight end.
Okung had been Seattle’s starting left tackle since 2010 (albeit, having missed a fair share of games due to injury in the process), when he arrived as the first draft pick of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider regime (and until he left, remaining the highest draft pick the team has made since Carroll and Schneider arrived).
At the time of Okung’s departure, there was much conjecture about how the team would replace him. It soon become apparent — moving Gilliam from right tackle. And if some wondered if the Seahawks wouldn’t have been better off trying to sign a veteran to fill in, or moving up in the draft to get a potentially surer thing, the team said the move of Gilliam was one that had been on its mind since the day he arrived.
“Garry Gilliam, he’s a tremendous prospect to be a left tackle also,” Carroll said in March. “I think you guys are real concerned about this spot — we’re really not. We’re excited to see how it turns out.”
Added offensive line coach Tom Cable: “There’s no question about the athlete. When you look at Garry’s transition from where he came as a tight end to being around making the team, and then moving to right tackle last year—from about Week 5 on, he really played well. So you have a good athlete, you have a smart guy who has been in it now, who’s experienced, and I think his confidence is good enough to play over there, so I’m pretty excited for him.”
Gilliam missed much of the offseason program after having a cyst removed from his knee, leaving veteran free agent Bradley Sowell to work with the first unit at left tackle in OTAs and minicamp. The team could also use veteran J’Marcus Webb at left tackle, a position where he has started in the past, if needed.
But much of the immediate and long-term future for Seattle’s offensive line plan is based on Gilliam being able to make the transition to left tackle. It’s a position that some argue isn’t quite as important as is often suggested since defenses more than ever are willing to move their best pass rushers around to try to get the best matchups (meaning, having a bad right tackle can mitigate having a good left one).
Still, it’s a big spot, and Gilliam said shortly after the move was made official that it’s one he will embrace.
“Obviously it’s a big role, especially for an offensive lineman to try to hold down that left tackle spot,’’ he said. “So yeah, I’m excited for it.
“I’m just going to keep going as planned and just keep working to get stronger in the offseason and work my head around that. Obviously there is going to be a competition there, as well as right tackle. Nothing is set in stone.”
Especially the last few years on Seattle’s offensive line — the Seahawks could have new starters at all five spots this season.
How Gilliam adapts will go a long way toward determining if this is the season the Seahawks’ seemingly annual offensive line merry-go-round starts to slow a bit.