RENTON — Asked before practice Thursday if trying to assemble an offensive line that will include at least three new starters during a shortened training camp keeps him up at night, coach Pete Carroll laughed.
“The stuff that keeps me awake at night, I don’t want to tell you about,” he said via Zoom video call. “There’s too many of them.”
But if the offensive line wasn’t at the top of the list, it might be after Thursday’s practice.
Media is limited in what it can report from team sessions of practice. But a general assessment is that the defense generally dominated against an offense kindly described as sloppy much of the day, though the offense, to be fair, rallied late –including a highlight reel Russell Wilson-to-DK Metcalf TD hookup.
Also to be fair, camp is the time to work out the kinks.
No position group on the team, though, may have more need for work than the offensive line, which has to not only replace three starters in right tackle (Germain Ifedi), right guard (D.J. Fluker) and center (Justin Britt/Joey Hunt) but also sixth-man/tackle-eligible George Fant, with only two returning starters in left tackle Duane Brown and left guard Mike Iupati.
No position group in football requires as much teamwork as a five-man line, and the Seahawks lost valuable time integrating all the new players with the inability to do any on-field work in the spring and then a late start to a training camp that won’t include preseason games.
As Carroll noted, “it’s all relative,” and every team is facing the same challenge.
But it may be more acute for Seattle due to all the change.
Carroll noted that, at the least, every player who could step into immediate key roles has pretty significant experience, apart from rookie third-round pick Damien Lewis, who is running with the first team at right guard.
“We’re seeing guys who have started some football games and played a lot of ball, too,” Carroll said.
Indeed, Brandon Shell, the likely replacement for Ifedi at right tackle, had 40 starts with the Jets. B.J. Finney, who has been assumed the leader for the center spot, had 13 starts with the Steelers. And Cedric Ogbuehi, signed as depth at tackle and a likely replacement for Fant’s role, has 25 career starts. And Lewis, at least, was a two-year starter for a high-powered LSU program.
But new is still new, and there’s no real replacement for the on-field work that helps linemen get comfortable working with each other, specifically making blocking adjustments at the line before the snap.
“Really, it’s just a matter of time,” Carroll said. “It’s a race against the clock, really, just to get them enough reps and get them in situations that can call for them to express whether they know their stuff. … Whether they can respond really well under the tempo of the game, and make the right decision, so they use the right scheme and tactic in identification and all that. It’s just time is really what we’re concerned about.”
To that end, Carroll also acknowledged this might be a year when it’s more important than ever to try to settle on a starting five quickly to get them enough work as possible before the season opener Sept. 13 at Atlanta.
“We’re trying to keep those guys as together as we can and try to predict how it’s going to turn out,” Carroll said. “But there’s such good competition that they’re making it hard on us, so if there’s anything it would be that there’s there’s competition at the spots that make us want to see other guys that keep us from getting the extra turns together in the same unit. So we’re not calling it early. But, we are three-and-a-half weeks right now is what we’re looking at, so we’re just trying to log as many minutes as we can.”
Practice Thursday did reveal that the center spot may not be going quite the direction that was expected a few weeks ago.
Most assumed Finney would take over at center after he signed a two-year deal worth up to $8 million that includes $4.5 million guaranteed and $4.5 million in dead money for 2020.
Instead, Ethan Pocic — a 2017 second-round pick — has been the center with the first-team offense the last two practices.
And Thursday, Finney saw all of his work at left and right guard — where he also played substantially during his four years with the Steelers — with Pocic getting all the work with the first team at center, backed up by Kyle Fuller.
Maybe Seattle wants to see if Finney can be a legit competitor to Lewis or Iupati. Certainly, the Seahawks didn’t spent that much money for a player they figured would be a backup.
Carroll this week, though, painted Pocic’s ascension as due more to Pocic having had a good offseason and being healthy after battling back and core muscle injuries last season, as well as being used solely at center, his primary position at LSU. Pocic has played mostly guard with the Seahawks the past three seasons.
“He hasn’t been able to be featured at that spot,” Carroll said. “But now that’s what we’re going with. He played everything in college, but played most of his snaps at center, and that’s where I thought he always looked the best. So, he had a fantastic offseason, he’s really looks as primed as he’s been.”
For now, the other spots seem pretty set, with Lewis drawing raves on Thursday from Brown for how he worked during virtual meetings in the offseason to get ready for camp, and Carroll saying that Shell “is exactly what we were hoping he would be.”
Should Shell falter at right tackle, Ogbuehi would likely take over with Carroll saying the former 2015 first-round pick of the Titans “looks the part.”
But to get it put together, Carroll said, will take an “accelerated pace.”
And as Carroll might paraphrase one of his famous quarterback’s sayings, “Who needs to sleep, anyway?”