D.J. Fluker has been a force at right guard for Seattle this season, but his lingering injury forced the Seahawks to experiment with Germain Ifedi as the starter.
D.J. Fluker appeared to have emerged victorious from what coach Pete Carroll had jokingly called earlier in the week the “pre-game Olympics’’ — pre-game workouts of injured players designed to determine if they are well enough to play.
Fluker, Seattle’s starting right guard who has been battling a sore hamstring suffered against the 49ers on Dec. 2, ran a few sprints and went through a few other agility drills on the field, then happily shook hands with Carroll and other Seattle staffers.
Yet when Sunday’s game against Arizona began, Fluker was in uniform but standing on the sidelines, with Carroll deciding that it best to save him for a playoff game next Saturday against Dallas.
“Fluke could have played today,’’ Carroll said after the Seahawks’ 27-24 win over the Cardinals. “We held him out. He was ready if we needed him.’’
With Fluker consigned to the sidelines, the Seahawks unveiled a surprise at right guard: Germain Ifedi, who has been the starting right tackle the past two seasons.
Ifedi also sat out against the Chiefs with a groin injury, with Seattle using George Fant there to get a critical win against Kansas City.
Fant’s performance led Seattle to decide to see what it might look like with Ifedi at right guard. Ifedi started out at right guard as a rookie in 2016 before moving out to right tackle, where he has since started 30 straight games before he had to sit out against Kansas City.
Carroll said the team decided to go with Ifedi in part as a hedge against Fluker’s injury, and in part to get the best five offensive linemen on the field.
“We just figured it was the right thing to do,’’ Carroll said. “If it takes (Fluker) two or three weeks, we’d be better off to go that way.’’
Carroll said after the game the expectation is that Fluker will be back at right guard against Dallas, with J.R. Sweezy also back at left guard, moving Ifedi back to right tackle and Fant to the role in which he has excelled all season as an extra tackle/eligible receiver/tight end.
Carroll said he was “really proud’’ of Ifedi for “just taking on the challenge and doing a nice job with it.’’
The line as a whole, though, struggled throughout as Russell Wilson was sacked six times and under pressure at least as often on other throws. Carroll said the struggles compelled the Seahawks to consider inserting Fluker back at right guard at halftime.
“We talked about it and decided not to,” he said.
Ifedi said it wasn’t that big of a deal to move to guard because he’d done it in 2016 and that “you’re just a little closer to the center.’’
“If felt good,’’ Ifedi said. “I thought it was pretty solid. I have to watch the film. But of the initial reaction I though it was pretty good. But as a line we have to be better and I have to look at myself first.’’
Carroll called it “really, really valuable’’ for Ifedi to be able to play guard as well as tackle.
And while for now the team is focused solely on the playoffs, the move could have some ramifications for the future.
If the team thinks Ifedi can play guard, it could impact how avidly the Seahawks will try to re-sign veterans Fluker and Sweezy, who each will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.
Ifedi was Seattle’s first-round pick in 2016 and the Seahawks could exercise a fifth-year option on his contract for the 2020 season. More likely, Ifedi will play out the 2019 season, the final year on his rookie contract. Fant will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season and pretty easily retainable, so Seattle will have options in assembling its offensive line in the future.