Among the moves the Seahawks have made this offseason to reshape their offensive line, the most surprising was the shifting of Britt from left guard to center. He played right tackle his rookie season.
With the Seahawks set to report for training camp July 29 (practices begin the next day), it’s time to look at the players I feel are most pivotal in 2016.
Call it “16 for ’16,” as we count down the 16 most important Seahawks in 2016, unveiling one new player each day until the team reports.
Justin Britt, the player making one of the more extreme position changes on the team this season, comes in at No. 7 on our countdown.
Player: Justin Britt.
2016 contract status: Britt is entering the third season of a slotted rookie contract of four years for $3.5 million he received as a second-round draft pick in 2014. He has a base salary of $734,267 in 2016.
Expected 2016 role: Starting center.
Why he’s ranked here: Among the moves the Seahawks have made to reshape their offensive line, the most surprising was the shifting of Britt from left guard to center.
Britt started as a rookie at right tackle, which led some to believe the Seahawks had found the long-term player for that position.
But early in training camp last season, the Seahawks did more shifting, which included moving Britt to left guard, opening up right tackle for Garry Gilliam.
As the Seahawks continued to add pieces to the line in the offseason, conjecture grew about where Britt would fit. The answer came shortly before organized team activities, when Britt was moved to center to compete with last year’s starter, Patrick Lewis.
Though Lewis has experience at the position, Britt worked with the first team at center throughout OTAs and minicamp, largely smoothing out the rough edges (off-target snaps, most notably) as the sessions wore on.
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“He’s done a very good job now,’’ coach Pete Carroll said at the end of minicamp. “He’s really embraced the role, and he’s the guy that’s been around the most, and we hoped he would take the leadership up there making the calls and all that.”
Britt amazingly has the most experience with the Seahawks of any of the team’s offensive linemen despite entering just his third year.
And the team thinks his experience and knowledge of the system could make him a good fit at center, a position where the most important task might be setting the line before the snap, with the implication being that he might be better there than he was at guard or tackle.
Though being moved for a second time in two years and playing a third position in three years might raise some questions about where his career is headed, Britt said all the right things during OTAs.
“I love it,” he said. “Really, I just want to start and play.”
Seattle has an obvious fallback in Lewis. Last year he worked with the backups throughout camp and early in the season before becoming the starter when Drew Nowak faltered.
The Seahawks are also high on sixth-round pick Joey Hunt and don’t appear to be ruling him out for the starting job.
If the Seahawks were to decide that Lewis or Hunt is better for the center job than Britt, then Britt likely would take on a role as a utility backup, able to play anywhere on the line. With the Seahawks usually having only seven or eight offensive linemen active on game day, versatile backups have value. Becoming a backup, though, obviously would seem a little ominous for Britt’s long-term future with the Seahawks.
But the Seahawks seem enamored with the possibilities of a line with Britt at center and undoubtedly will give it a long look during training camp and the exhibition season.
“I think like anything, you just want to find the best five — where are they, who are they?’’ offensive-line coach Tom Cable said.
It took Seattle a while last year to find that best five, a delay that played no small factor in the slow start that ultimately doomed the season.
If, and how quickly, Britt can make a successful transition to center also will go a long way toward helping the line avoid the stunted development of last season.