With Seahawks' training camp set to start this weekend, I figure I should finally stop procrastinating and start putting together a series highlighting the depth at each position: the bubble players, likely locks, and possible surprise roster additions that we could see once it's all said and done. I talked about running back last week, so as a natural progression, let's talk about is the offensive line.
The presumptive starters for 2012, as it stands right now in my mind, are LT Russell Okung, LG Paul McQuistan, C Max Unger, RG John Moffitt, and RT Breno Giacomini. That said, I think that the two guard positions are still up for grabs more or less with Moffitt returning from a torn MCL and McQuistan ... well, he's just not a lock, I don't think. He played well enough last season at several positions on the line -- with Marshawn Lynch once saying that he was Seattle's offensive MVP -- for the team to bring him back for an encore, but I'm not sure if the front office and coaching staff see his value as more of a utility backup that can play tackle or guard, or rather as a regular starter. As with several other groups on this roster, the offensive line shakeout should be pretty interesting.
Here's the current 15-man group at OL. If you look at the last several years for the Seahawks, you could guess they'll keep either nine or ten for their final 53-man roster...
Locks: the five I mentioned above, Okung, McQuistan, Unger, Moffit and Giacomini, are the closest things to locks in this offensive line group, I would think (with McQuistan a shaky 'lock'). Past those five, I guess you could call James Carpenter a lock in that the Seahawks will not cut him, but there's still a good chance that Carpenter will go on PUP to start the year and thus will not count towards the initial 53-man roster. So, let's assume there's going to be four or five roster spots up for grabs for Lutui, Jeanpierre, Johnson, Barron, Sweezy, Coughman, Barbre, Fanaika, and Omiyale to fight for. Those four/five spots are very, very important because it's very, very likely that several of Seattle's backups will see game snaps during the season. It's just the nature of football.
"One of the things that you got to witness last year," Tom Cable recently noted, "that was kind of a philosophical thing, was to prepare [each guy on the line] to play a couple spots. I could take Max Unger and put him at either guard spot, it wouldn't make a difference to us. I could probably take Russell Okung and move him from left tackle over to right, and it wouldn't matter to us. Most of the group - I'd say probably 90% of it, they're all going to learn two positions, so if you get into that situation that we got into last year, you can plug those holes and not have it be detrimental."
The Seahawks were hit hard with the injury bug last year -- losing Carpenter, Moffitt and Russell Okung on season ending injuries and multiple others along the line were dinged up throughout -- and though I doubt we can expect to see anything that major this season (fingers crossed), it's almost inevitable that starters will go down for a game or two her and there, and shuffling will have to be done. The good news is that, in that case, said shuffling becomes less stressful to me with improved depth at every position. I think the Seahawks have actually put together a fairly underrated unit -- though it may be unproven at this point -- and at the moment I actually feel pretty good about the guys they're going to be trotting out there on any given day.
Adding Deuce Lutui, Alex Barron, and Frank Omiyale is a smart move to provide some veteran depth -- and I could see one or two of those three emerge with a roster spot in a similar role that McQuistan took on last season. Guys that have been in the league, know how to play multiple spots, and can step in when someone goes down. The idea is, of course, that you lose nothing in terms of effectiveness, as Cable mentions above, and though that might not be completely based in reality, having capable and experienced backups on the line is much more important than most people may realize.
When formulating my 'ideal' starting line over the last few weeks, it just has kind of dawned on me that in the real world, it's probably more important to formulate your 'ideal' seven or so offensive linemen that should and probably will be used in rotation, as players get dinged up throughout the season.
Ideally, you'd like to maintain one starting lineup of five guys, to improve the teamwork and coordination, familiarity and continuity; but, throwing Lutui, Barron, or Omiyale out there with the youngsters has the potential to be, shall we say, more seamless than if you were to throw a youngster out into the fire.
Barron is a former first-round pick, so you know he's athletic and at one point had the measurables and attributes that you look for in a franchise LT. He's 6'7, 318 pounds, and has absurdly ridiculous 37.75" arms. He ran a 4.87 40 coming out of Florida State, with a 35" vert and a 9'4" broadjump - meaning he's got agility and explosiveness, and from my point of view, if you put him in a position where he can succeed as a cog in the wheel - possibly at backup right tackle or emergency guard - and you could get some value for him. Barron was the 19th overall pick in the 2005 Draft but has busted because of his penchant for false starts and holding penalties (also, apparently, for his indifference at getting better). If he can get those penalties under control - a big if - but if he can rein those in, he could provide nice depth as a swing tackle or emergency guard in this Seahawks zone blocking scheme. Those long arms, movement ability, and what I can assume is a desire to prove himself a success in the league (doubt the Seahawks would have signed him if he hadn't displayed competitiveness), could pay dividends for the Seahawks this season. Reports said he played pretty well in mini-camps.
Lutui is another under-the-radar signing that I liked and in my opinion, the former USC Trojan has an outside chance to break into the starting lineup initially, especially if John Moffitt struggles in training camp and the preseason. Lutui is probably most famous for his weight -- he's a big dude that failed his physical in Cincinnati last year because of weight, and most of you now have heard the 'he became a vegan to lose weight' stories from Seahawks mini-camps and whatnot. I wrote about the Lutui signing a few months ago to piggyback off of a Mike Sando article, but, from what I can tell, Lutui didn't really appreciate the gravity of his weight (pun?) situation until failing his physical in Cincinnati, after signing a two-year deal there. He's played heavy his whole life - as Sando put it, "Lutui said he weighed 396 pounds upon reporting to USC, where his line coach, Tim Davis, encouraged personal growth with a saying Lutui ate up: "Mass moves ass." Lutui sometimes played at 370 pounds in college, dropping into the 330s for the scouting combine."
Said Lutui in that article, "It has always been a part of me to play big. I had to humble myself to see what coaches are seeing out there." So, it would appear he finally came to the realization that teams needed him lighter, once he was cut by Cincy. It's important to note that the Seahawks were actually interested in Lutui last year but with the lockout and the schenanigans there, they opted to go with Robert Gallery instead because he knew Tom Cable and his system. Lutui went back to Arizona and sat on the bench, mostly. He's now got something to prove - that his career isn't over and that he's still capable of being a dominant guard in the NFL.
When you hear about a guy failing a physical for being overweight, the knee-jerk reaction is typically something akin to "what a lazy-ass." Visions of Bryant McKinnie come to mind - indifference, complacency, whatever it is. I really don't get the impression that this is what happened with Lutui. He simply thought, for a long time, that he was best suited to play at 370+ pounds. It took the Cincinnati situation for him to wake up to the fact that he might be wrong on that. -- Again -- "I had to humble myself to see what coaches are seeing out there."
Keep in mind, as Sando points out - Lutui is an Eagle Scout and former finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. He was voted most inspirational by his college teammates at USC. This isn't a guy that 'doesn't give a crap.'
Said Lutui: "My strength on the field speaks for itself, but being born 13 pounds, coming from an ancestry of big men, it is definitely -- I have changed my whole life. I come from the land of kings that eat like kings. The first king of Tonga was a 7-footer. My best game weight is 340 and that is still big for a lineman, but for a Tongan, it's pretty small. You check out my other brothers on the field, Haloti Ngata and these guys. They are playing at 350-plus and they're pretty good."
It's worth noting that the Seahawks have a clause in Lutui's contract that stipulates he stay under 350 pounds, so if he didn't already have the internal motivation to stay at weight, his job depends on it. I have to think he'll maintain, and Carroll has given him a new lease on his career. Said Deuce, "He is the only coach in the NFL who really knows who Deuce Lutui is. I came at him at 396 (in college), but he has really honored me for my strengths and I'm going to honor him by playing at a weight that is under the radar. I am stepping into my prime. I haven't even yet scratched he surface of that. I am so optimistic about this year as far as my training has been. I can't wait to prove to this organization who I am and who they are getting."
Lutui is no given - but he's intriguing, has played well in the past when healthy, is a vet, is hungry (in a good way), knows and appreciates Pete Carroll, and that's about the best you can ask for in a probable backup free agent signing.
Past that, I honestly don't know enough about Frank Omiyale to comment on his prospects. I know that Tom Cable coached him in Atlanta and that familiarity is what most likely prompted his signing here. He earned a reputation in Chicago as a poor pass blocker (Gate-68 was his nickname) but to be honest, that whole O-Line was so bad in pass pro I'm not sure how much blame to assign. Suffice to say, I'll keep an open mind for Omiyale's prospects and I think his upside is as a veteran swing tackle that can bump in to play guard in a pinch, somewhere near Paul McQuistan's ceiling.
Now, past that, the Seahawks have youth -- Lemuel Jeanpierre, Edawn Coughman, J.R. Sweezy, Rishaw Johnson, and Paul Fanaika offer upside and intrigue but little else to go on. Jeanpierre saw a good amount of snaps last year and from what I perceived, and from everything I've read, acquitted himself nicely. Now, does that mean he's a potential starter or best as quality depth, I do not know. Fanaika is another depth guy that we have little to go off of, but he's stuck around on the practice squad and active roster enough to think he's got some potential.
Rishaw Johnson is a real wild-card. Originally thought to be a mid-round talent, but fell out of the Draft because of character concerns. He's been touted by Pete Carroll a lot over the last few months and even saw some time with the first-team unit in mini-camps and OTAs, but I'd still classify him as a project at this point. A lot of upside, but faces a steep learning curve after playing at small-school California PA last season after being dismissed from Ole Miss the prior year. I sort of see him in the same light as a lot of us saw Jarriel King last year -- big upside, as long as he can stay out of trouble. King couldn't, so hopefully Johnson can.
Also filed under projects would be Edawn Coughman and J.R. Sweezy, a couple of interior linemen with the size, athleticism and 'nasty' that you love to have in the trenches, but raw raw raw and should need some development. As with anything, I could be wrong, but I wouldn't count on seeing either of these guys in 2012, barring catastrophic injuries and depletion of depth.
Finally, Allen Barbre. He was recently suspended for the first four games of the season for PED violations, and with such a tough competition for roster spots, this cannot help his cause. I know little about him, but from what I gather, he's a big, nasty lineman. I'd think he has some nice upside as a swing tackle/guard, but again, not sure if he'll survive cuts with that four-game suspension hanging over his head.
If you're asking me to guess, and this is just that -- a pure guess -- I'd say the Seahawks will go with nine offensive linemen -- Russell Okung, Paul McQuistan, Max Unger, John Moffitt, Breno Giacomini, Deuce Lutui, Lemuel Jeanpierre, Rishaw Johnson, and Alex Barron. Right now, I've projected J.R. Sweezy and Edawn Coughman to the Practice Squad and James Carpenter to the PUP.