RENTON — Jake Curhan’s always proven to be a quick study.
A skier and basketball player during his younger days, he didn’t play football until he was in the ninth grade. A year later he was a starter on the varsity.
Eventually earning a scholarship to California, he became a starter as a redshirt freshman at right tackle and earned a business administration degree along the way.
So maybe it should have been no surprise that of the 13 undrafted free agents the Seahawks signed last May after the draft, Curhan was the one who made the fastest immediate impression to earn a spot on the team’s initial 53-man roster.
Curhan was the only UDFA to do so, and hopes now to parlay that designation into a career worthy of other Seahawks who began their careers as undrafted free agents in recent years such as Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, DeShawn Shead, Poona Ford and Benson Mayowa.
“I never doubted that I had the ability to get up here and compete with these guys, and when I got my opportunity, I showed that I could,” Curhan said.
The reality is, few around the league really doubted it, either.
Curhan was generally expected to be a mid-round pick after starting 40 games for Cal in four seasons and then earning an invite to the Senior Bowl.
But in medical exams before the draft, Curhan was found to have a heart condition.
Curhan said politely he doesn’t want to go into detail about it but said: “There’s an irregularity in my heart. I went through a million tests at the combine. And when I first got here I met with the team cardiologist. It’s not something that is going to cause me to pass out or fall over doing any sort of physical activity.”
But the uncertainty about his condition led to Curhan being taken off many team’s draft boards.
Curhan said he’d already accepted before the draft that he almost certainly wasn’t going to be taken and vowed instead that he’d prove to whichever team landed him as an undrafted free agent that it wouldn’t regret it.
“I knew I was better than what happened at the draft,” he said. “Honestly, a lot of the teams probably knew I was better than that. But there are other circumstances out of my control. It’s the same sort of thing, a lot of that was out my hands. I did what I could do, and I knew that wherever I was going to end up going I was going to be able to give myself a shot and compete.”
Curhan signed quickly with Seattle after the draft because he felt he’d developed a good relationship with offensive line coach Mike Solari through the draft process and he liked the opportunity to make the team.
What wasn’t really a factor is that he and coach Pete Carroll went to the same high school — Redwood High in Larkspur, California. They have promised, though, to sing the fight song someday.
“We’re going to get together and go over that,” Curhan said.
Once he got to Seattle in May, Curhan initially had to accept another reality — that he was going to have to play guard in the NFL, something he’d heard from other teams as well.
Asked why teams wanted to move him, Curhan noted he doesn’t meet some of the measurables for being a tackle. He has just 33-inch arms. The ideal length is 34 inches or more.
Curhan was already making an impression on the Seahawks at guard early in camp when fate intervened again. With Duane Brown “holding in’’ and injuries to Jamarco Jones and Cedric Ogbuehi, the Seahawks were suddenly light at tackle.
So Curhan got moved back to his usual spot at right tackle, starting there for all three preseason games. In the second game against Denver, Curhan received the highest grade of any Seattle offensive player from Pro Football Focus.
Carroll said Curhan gave up only one pressure on “27 or 28″ pass attempts playing right tackle during the preseason.
“(When) he had a chance to move to right tackle, he was a different guy,” Carroll said. “He was so comfortable, so at ease, had a feel for it. He just played really well.”
Curhan said he makes up for any perceived lack of length at tackle because “I understand angles and where I need to be on different plays, and how to get there with whatever I’m seeing on the defense. So I was completely reset when I was inside because I didn’t have any of that prior knowledge to bank off of like I do when I’m at tackle.”
The Seahawks even threw Curhan in at left tackle for a 16-play series in the preseason finale against the Chargers.
Still, what helped get him on the roster was that he showed he can also play guard.
“Like anything else on the offensive line, the more you do it, the more comfortable you’re going to get at it,” Curhan said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that I can play four out of the five positions on the line.”
That’s about as valuable as it gets in the NFL, especially for backups. With teams usually having no more than eight offensive linemen active on game days, the backups need to be able to play multiple spots.
And if the season began today, Curhan might well find himself active on game days. Seattle has 10 offensive linemen after Ogbuehi was placed on injured reserve this week.
But two are rookie Stone Forsythe — who has played only tackle — and Dakoda Shepley, who was claimed off waivers this week and along with likely needing time to learn Seattle’s system is also going to be used mostly at center where Seattle has both veterans Kyle Fuller and Ethan Pocic.
If Seattle went with eight, then Curhan might well find himself suiting up on Sept. 12 against the Colts.
This week, Curhan was just glad to be part of the 53. He said he figured it was a good thing when Tuesday morning passed without his phone ringing — cuts had to be made by 1 p.m.
“I’m usually the kind of guy that’s like, ‘I did what I could do and at that point it’s out of my hands,’” he said. “That’s how I was until it started getting closer and then it was building up a little bit, but at the end of the day there’s nothing I could have done at this point. I did what I could, and I ended up here.”