Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable says he expects what was a beleaguered unit last year will be much improved in 2017.
Maybe Tom Cable is just trying to support an offensive line he knows as well as anyone has mostly been the subject of ridicule the last few years and remains the Seahawks’ biggest question mark heading into a new season.
Maybe it’s just the usual June optimism that colors every NFL team as the summer vacation — the longest break anyone in the league ever gets — beckons.
Or maybe Cable just really means it when he says the Seahawks’ offensive line is markedly better now than it was a year ago at this time — Cable used the phrase “night and day’’ in an interview with KJR-AM last month.
Friday, when he met the media following the Seahawks’ final workout of OTAs (Organized Team Activities) Cable was slightly more muted, throwing in the expected caveats that the no-contact, no-pads nature of the practices to date means assessments remain incomplete.
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Still, his anticipation for a better 2017 was evident at every turn.
“I’d like to get to (training) camp,’’ Cable said when asked about the improvement he sees in the line so far. “But I’m the most excited coach on the staff right now. That’s what I’ve told Coach (Pete Carroll) and (general manager) John (Schneider)—I appreciate them putting this together in a year’s time and doing a fantastic job. Our personnel guys nailed this, so it’s just a matter of getting them in the right spots and going and playing ball.”
Therein lies the challenge of training camp — figuring out the best five.
But while maybe only one spot seems completely set – Justin Britt at center — OTAs revealed a clearer picture developing.
In the workouts open to the media, a pretty consistent starting five was evident — left tackle George Fant, left guard Luke Joeckel, Britt, right guard Mark Glowinski and right tackle Germain Ifedi.
Joeckel, signed as a free agent to a one-year contract worth up to $8 million, has gotten limited reps as he recovers from a knee injury suffered last October with Jacksonville. But he’s done enough to make the Seahawks optimistic he’ll be ready for the season. And for now he appears to be settling in at left guard, where he played last season, even if left tackle could still be an option.
In that scenario, then Fant would again be the left tackle, though this time winning the job outright instead of it being handed to him by default as occurred a year ago when he was thrust into the lineup due to injuries and ineffectiveness of other players.
Fant has stood out so far for checking in at about 320 pounds after weighing around 296 a year ago with no apparent loss in mobility.
As of today, he’d be part of a starting lineup featuring two players who were rookies last year now starting at tackle, the other being Ifedi, the team’s first-round pick last year who started in 2016 at right guard.
“Really all those kids, from George to Germain to (2016 third-round pick) Rees (Odhiambo), they all have matured a year,’’ Cable said. “It’s kind of like a freshman in college. If you play them right away, it can be painful at times, but they make big strides, and they’ve done that. They’ve all matured and handled this thing really, really well.”
Cable said Ifedi has “so far’’ appeared to make a good switch back to the position he played much of his college career at Texas A&M.
“You want to see him when it’s real, you want to see him handle the speed and the edge play and all those things,’’ Cable said. “But certainly his size and who he is, his brain, all of that fits for what we’re trying to do.”
Pushing Ifedi is second-round pick Ethan Pocic, who despite being primarily a center at LSU is starting his Seahawks’ career at right tackle.
Odhiambo, meanwhile, has often been working with the starting unit at left guard with Joeckel limited and figures at the least to have a role as a swing backup in 2017.
Cable also thinks Glowinski will benefit from a move from left guard to right guard which had been his primary position before last season when the Seahawks moved him so that Ifedi could play on his more natural side as a rookie.
“The first time he’d ever played left was last year,’’ Cable said. “All the way back to junior college, West Virginia, his first year here was at right.”
Then there’s Britt, of whom Cable lavished some uncommon praise on Friday comparing his leadership to that of Max Unger, the anchor of the offensive line when Seattle won the Super Bowl following the 2013 season.
“Justin Britt has kind of taken over offensively what you need — a lot of things I used to see in Max,’’ Cable said. “So that’s a big step for us.”
Cable also likes the experience in the position room added by Joeckel and Oday Aboushi, at the moment getting work primarily as a backup right guard.
The way Cable sees it, after a few years from 2013-15 of the Seahawks going into seasons knowing there were veterans they were likely to lose in free agency, the team now has a group it can mold for the long-term.
“This is a young enough group that you can kind of see them stay where they’re at right now for a while now,’’ he said.
Given the struggles of the line last season, skepticism from the fan base about whether that’s a good thing — and the line overall – is understandable.
But Cable isn’t backing down while understanding much more work — and proving — remains to be done.
“I’m excited as camp approaches. I think we’ve made some progress towards being ready to go to training camp,’’ he said. “That means teaching the offense and getting the young kids involved. I think we’re right where we should be at this point.”