Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable said George Fant will remain as the team's starting left tackle with Bradley Sowell competing with Garry Gilliam at right tackle.
The news that Bradley Sowell was now back and ready to play for the Seahawks Sunday against the Eagles led to the question of where he would fit into the lineup. Would he return to his spot as the starting left tackle, or take on another role such as moving to right tackle and competing with Garry Gilliam?
The answer came after Wednesday’s practice from offensive line coach Tom Cable, who said George Fant will remain as the starting left tackle while Sowell will battle for a starting spot with Gilliam on the right side.
“We’re competing at right tackle with Garry and with Brad, and George continues to grow,” Cable said after Wednesday’s practice. “And what we are trying to do, it’s obvious I think, but get the best five guys on the field and that mentality doing it right, the right mentality and going for it every down.”
Sowell, who signed a one-year contract in the off-season, started the first six games at left tackle before spraining his knee in a 6-6 tie at Arizona on Oct. 23. Fant, an undrafted rookie free agent from Western Kentucky, replaced Sowell and has played well enough that he will now hold onto the job. Coach Pete Carroll noted before practice that Fant did not have a single missed assignment in Sunday’s 31-24 win at New England.
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“That’s a big improvement for him,” Carroll said. “It’s hard for anybody to do that in any position, so not that he’s going to never miss an assignment again, but he made it through the game in that regard.”
While all 18 of Sowell’s career starts in the NFL are at left tackle (12 with Arizona in 2013 and six this year) Cable said he has gotten a lot of experience all over in his time in the league and that playing on the right side won’t be an issue.
“Fortunately with his years in the league he has been asked to do quite a bit, so there’s no issue there,” Cable said.
Cable said Sowell “looked fine” in practice Wednesday and is on track to play Sunday.
Carroll had been more vague about how the left tackle spot would evolve prior to practice saying “how that fits together, you have to wait and see on that one because we don’t know either. We’re pleased to get him (Sowell) back out there. … It will always be about the competition. George has done a really good job with this opportunity and Bradley was doing fine when he was playing, so we’ll figure that out as we go.”
But Cable’s comments make clear that the plan for now is to go with Fant, a decision that could also pave the way for Fant to take over one of the most important positions on the offense far into the future.
It also represents another signifiant step in Fant’s meteoric rise from college basketball star to NFL starter.
Fant, whose cousin is former Sonic Jim McDaniels, played four years of basketball at Western Kentucky, where he finished his career as the 13th leading scorer in school history and eighth leading rebounder.
But after the 2014-15 season, he said he realized his professional basketball options might be limited to playing overseas. Fant was convinced that with his body type and athleticism he might have a chance to make it in football and turned out for the WKU football team last season. He played sparingly as he got used to playing football again after having stopped in junior high to concentrate on basketball.
The Seahawks were among the teams interested in bringing him in, understandably viewing him initially as more of a project.
But Fant quickly showed he might be readier than the team expected, and the injury to Sowell opened the door for Fant to get his chance at left tackle. It’s an opportunity that he has done enough with that Fant could stay there quite a while.
“We’re really excited that he’s doing as well as we can expect right now for his understanding and his experience,” Carroll said. “We know that he’s really applying himself and achieving at a high level and he can get measures better as we move down the road here. We’re really excited about what he’s doing.”
Said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell: “I think it was a little bit earlier than we wanted to play him. We knew the aptitude he had. We know that he’s very athletic. We know the understanding that he has. We knew that every play that happen to him he was going to grow from it. It came a situation where we had to play him and he’s continued to get better just like we thought with each and every snap that he’s taken. He understands things obviously you use the term the games slow down. I think it’s slowed down a little bit. He understands the combinations he understands how to work with Glow [Mark Glowinski]. Some of the twist he might get. That doesn’t mean that he’s doing it perfectly every time. He’s doing a really nice job with it. His athleticism saves him a lot of times but his understanding is where it needs to be and he’s doing a really nice job for us in a tough spot.”
The competition with Sowell, meawhile, will mark yet another challenge for Gilliam, a third-year player from Penn State. After starting last season at right tackle, Gilliam was tabbed in the spring as the presumptive starter at left tackle after veteran Russell Okung signed as a free agent with Denver. But Gilliam was slowed in the off-season after having surgery to remove a cyst on his knee and after struggling at left tackle early in the preseason he was moved to right tackle when J’Marcus Webb suffered a knee injury. Now Gilliam will have to fight to keep the job that a year ago was his.