Seahawks on the Precipice: Russell Okung

It feels a bit strange to write about Russell Okung in this series. After all, "Seahawks on the Precipice" is about players who have flashed promise or should have done so, and what we can expect from them next year. Russell Okung's rookie season certainly wasn't ideal, missing half the pre-season and six games in the regular season due to unfortunate injuries. Those injuries also slowed him down a bit during the games he did play. Yet I've seen (fairly random) NFL writers state that Russell Okung has question marks left as a fit into our system, and has to prove himself in his second year. But as far as I can tell, Okung did prove himself, showing himself ready to start immediately (his first full game as a starter was again the Bears and Julius Peppers, who he shut down) and flashing enormous potential. His question marks did not come from his play as much as the fact that he was injured multiple times, and that one is harder to dismiss casually.

The prospect of Okung's career being derailed by injury is a scary one, and it's certainly troubling that he's suffered high ankle sprains on both ankles already. The likelihood of a derail actually happening is hard to peg down exactly. High ankle sprains tend to be serious and tend to lead to reccurence. The fact that we're playing our home games on turf doesn't help. It is at least encouraging that Okung's injuries happened in unusual circumstances with teammates rolling on his ankles, which we can hope won't happen a lot. John Morgan did some solid writeups on high ankle sprains here and specifically for Okung here. If you want to read some more, here is former Jaguars head team physician R. Stephen Lucie, MD on the nature of ankle sprains and high ankle sprains. As Dr. Lucie pointed out way back then, ankle sprains are very common, and high ankle sprains are no exception. Adrian Peterson had one in college in 2005. Tom Brady had one a few years back, as did Terrell Owens. So did Bob Sanders, but there are few injuries in professional football Bob Sanders hasn't had.

I don't get the sense Okung ever played injury-free. Of course, no NFL player ever plays fully injury-free, but at times - especially near the end of the season - it looked like his ankles slowed him down a bit. Our FO clearly wasn't careless about it and kept him out as many games as needed, but it still had a visible impact on his game. I noticed this particularly when I went back to watch our wild card game against the Saints, where our Oline as a whole played particularly well. The Saints are a difficult team to handle as they attack the offense in very creative ways. While the line as a whole reacted to stunts by the Saints well, that's hard to put on one individual lineman rather than the line as a whole. Okung had to deal with their pretty damn good defensive end, Will Smith. If you glance at Smith's numbers this year (5.5 sacks), you might think he had a down year, but talking with Bucs Nation head writer Sander about him, he noted Smith performed very well against the Bucs pro bowl (alternate) left tackle Donald Penn (the best LT in pro football according to Michael Lombardi).

Much like games against Peppers, Okung handled Will Smith beautifully in one-on-one situations, both stopping him dead as a pass blocker and in moving him out of the way as a run blocker - though more runs went off right end/tackle than left, presumably to spare our left side. There is only one occurence where Okung looked to be beat by Will Smith and LG Tyler Polumbus stepped in well to help him. Okung did look weak against the bull rush, getting nearly pushed into Hasselbeck more than once, but I find it easy to dismiss that as due to his bad ankles. Similarly, this was not Okung's game when it came to blocking downfield, as he looked slow and didn't always make the best decisions. On the Beastquake run, Mike Mayock noted the "whole team" was down there with him, but as far as I can tell Okung went down at the line to block for Lynch and did not accompany him further to the endzone, though Polumbus can be found running in front of Lynch. Not really a criticism, just noting he didn't look 100%. Speaking of, Polumbus looked pretty good at LG, just like he looked adequate-to-good filling in on the line all year. I hope he's back, that kind of depth is valuable, and I wouldn't even be scared if by dint of necessity he's the starter at LG come this season.

Worst-case scenario: The nightmare scenario is pretty obvious. The recurrence bug bites with Okung missing games this next season as he sprains one of his ankles again. The more it happens, the more worrisome it gets.

Best-case scenario: Russell Okung starts 16 games, plays left tackle at a high level and is selected to the pro bowl.

My take: Russell Okung starts 16 games, plays left tackle at a high level, but isn't selected for the pro bowl due to playing in Southern Alaska.

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