The Seattle Seahawks' offensive line is kind of tricky to evaluate. On one hand, you can't help but feel like it's one of the better units on the roster - Seattle's rushing attack was extremely effective in 2012 and the Hawks sent Russell Okung and Max Unger to the Pro Bowl when it was all said and done. The depth seems to be pretty solid with quality part-time starters/backups in John Moffitt/Paul McQuistan/J.R. Sweezy, Lemuel Jeanpierre, and Mike Person, and that depth was bolstered with a couple of draft picks and a couple of solid UDFA signings during Draft weekend.
On the other hand, because of injuries to James Carpenter and still developing competition between a slew of guys at right guard, it's still pretty unclear who will be starting at either guard position in 2013 and presumptive starting right tackle Breno Giacomini, though he had a good second half of the season, drew the ire of fans through the first eight or so games in 2012 for after-the-whistle personal fouls and avoidable penalties.
Overall though, is this a group that can make a big jump in 2013 from their form in 2012? Tom Cable mentioned just after the draft that he saw 2012 as the year the unit really made a big jump, and that if anyone is going to make big strides in 2013 it'd be "the young guys, for certain."
Said Cable, "You know, as a group, we probably made the big stride last year. When you finish third in rushing and you take off 17 sacks from the year before, you convert in critical situations at a higher percentage, they're doing something right. So this year, we're going to see if we can accomplish all those and then some."
Still, I can't help but be optimistic for what this offensive line could really do in 2013, and am actually holding out for another big jump forward. For me, the two main factors for potential improvement in 2013 are 1) better continuity and, 2) a large human being named James Carpenter.
First - continuity. I've brought this up before, but Seattle had nearly the worst continuity at that positional group in the entire NFL in 2012, according to Football Outsiders' measure.
Continuity along the offensive line is extremely important - you're working as a unit, making last second changes in the heat of battle and adjusting to defensive changes on the fly up to 60 or 70 times a game. Continuity is important because it eases communication, establishes a comfort level between linemates to know where their cohort is going to be on any given situation, and it even helps with some of the more abstract concepts like camaraderie and synergy. Continuity on the O-Line is arguably as important (or more important) than chemistry between quarterback and receiver. I'm no line expert, but I think Seattle's continuity might be even more important than most of the rest of the league in the very technical zone-blocking scheme they employ.
According to FO's tracking, Seattle started 8 different players on the OL and had 9 different lineups throughout the year. The longest stretch where the same five players started in the same five spots on the offensive line was three games.
You're going to face injuries over the course of a season, but that is awful. I don't expect it, but I'd hope that improves in 2013.
Relatedly, the James Carpenter factor on the offensive line comes immediately to mind.
Carpenter is a guy that I've been very high on as a guard and the more I watch of him on tape from 2012 the more excited I get about what he'll bring in 2013. If you go back and watch some of the early games in which Carp was relatively healthy, you'll see a burgeoning force on the left side and you immediately start to daydream about what he'll look like going forward in the middle of a couple of potential All-Pros in Okung and Unger.
What Carpenter lacks in mobility, he makes up for in brute strength and physicality, and from what I've seen, when he engages a block, it's damn tough for defenders to get off of it. The problem for him last year was of course that he came in a bit out of shape and a step or two slow due to the rehabilitation of his ACL tear, and if he had one deficiency, it was that he was a beat slow in engaging defenders. The Seahawks are bringing him back very slowly this time around after probably rushing him back last year, but I'm hoping that his agility and mobility are improved as he drops weight prior to Week 1. If this happens and guys stay healthy, I honestly can't really even fathom how good of a left side this offensive line will have.
I'll admit that I'm more bullish on Carpenter than a lot of people seem to be, but I was not remotely surprised when I saw Russell Okung address what Carpenter could bring to the line if he can get healthy this year. You can't really ever take things that players say about their teammates 100% seriously, but I will say that I pretty much agreed with Okung when he said, "James, he's an animal. When he's healthy, he's hard to beat. I don't think there's a guy who can line up over him and really say they can beat him, when he's healthy."
Pete Carroll echoed this sentiment, and again, I know I'm especially high on Carpenter, but if you look at some of the verbiage that Pete uses, you start to let your mind wander a little bit on the potential he could have.
"James has a tremendous upside for us and I'm anxious for you guys to see what he's capable of doing. We expect that he'll make it back for camp so we'll see what happens. He can give us a special dimension if we can get him back."
Tremendous side. A special dimension. 'I'm anxious for you guys to see what he's capable of doing.' This is precisely what I've been thinking for the past few months myself. I've made it a point to watch Carpenter carefully whenever I watch game replays, and I can't get something that Tom Cable recently said out of my mind whenever I do watch the tape:
"You want to have the element of power on the offensive line, and James, in that group, is the most powerful guy. It's like - playing Justin Smith, the first time in San Francisco: he didn't budge us, and that's something that's new for Justin, it just doesn't happen often for him. And James was able to stay in there with people like that, and take the blunt, and push back, and move 'em."
"I wouldn't have drafted him if he was finesse."
We've talked about the importance of strong, stout interior line play for Russell Wilson because of his height deficiency, and this is something that I could see Carpenter bringing in 2013.
Ok. So enough about that. The right side of the line is another story. Before we look at that, here's a look at the training camp offensive line group, assuming no moves are made while players are away.
78 Bailey, Alvin T 6-3 320 - 21 (R) Arkansas
73 Bowie, Michael T 6-4 332 - 21 (R) Northeastern State
65 Bscherer, Jake T 6-6 305 - 25 (R) Minnesota-Duluth
77 Carpenter, James G 6-5 321 - 24 (3) Alabama
68 Giacomini, Breno T 6-7 318 - 27 (6) Louisville
61 Jeanpierre, Lemuel G-C 6-3 301 - 26 (4) South Carolina
63 Johnson, Rishaw G 6-5 313 24 - (2) California University (Pa.)
67 McQuistan, Paul G-T 6-6 315 30 - (8) Weber State
74 Moffitt, John G 6-4 319 26 - (3) Wisconsin
76 Okung, Russell T 6-5 310 - 25 (4) Oklahoma State
75 Person, Mike T 6-4 299 - 25 (3) Montana State
62 Seymour, Ryan G 6-4 301 - 23 (R) Vanderbilt
66 Smith, Jared G 6-4 302 - 23 (R) New Hampshire
64 Sweezy, J.R. G 6-5 298 -24 (2) North Carolina State
60 Unger, Max C 6-5 305 - 27 (5) Oregon
As it stands now, the presumptive starter at right guard is, in my mind, J.R. Sweezy. His competition will be from John Moffitt, Rishaw Johnson, Ryan Seymour, and Paul McQuistan, I would guess. Sweezy's main issue last year wasn't a lack of physicality or strength, and it certainly wasn't athleticism, it was experience. When Sweezy made mistakes, they were often times mental errors where he just wasn't processing defensive line shifts quickly enough. Guys would move around prior to the snap, assignments would change and Sweezy was supposed to have adjusted, but then would move the wrong way or engage the wrong player, leaving open rushing lanes for defenders. This was entirely understandable, considering he hadn't played offensive line since high school.
I would imagine this gets cleaned up significantly with a full offseason to learn the system, and I expect Sweezy to make a nice jump going forward as the starter at that spot.
I've been wrong before though, and there are a few guys that could surprise. The first that comes to mind is Rishaw Johnson. Johnson was a guy that Pete Carroll seemed particularly excited about last season after the Seahawks picked him up in rookie free agency. He was originally a fourth-round (or so) prospect that fell out of the draft due to character concerns - Johnson transfered to small school California (Pennsylvania) after being kicked off the team at Ole Miss.
Now, Nolan Nawrowki is a bit of a pariah when it comes to draft scouting because of a few of his quarterback evaluations of late, but has long been a respected scout for ProFootballWeekly's yearly draft publication - and his pre-Draft scouting report on Johnson is always in the back of my mind:
"Has long arms and meat hooks for hands. Pops out of his stance. Light on his feet. Fluid movement skills for a big man, including terrific knee and ankle flexion. Expansive blocking range. Outstanding pulling ability - leads through the hole with speed, agility and body control. Gets on top of linebackers with ease and can even pick off third-level defenders. Has a solid base and shows the ability to sit in his stance. Plays through the whistle and flashes some nasty."
Naturally, there's a laundry list of negatives on that scouting report as well, but we're talking about a guy that went undrafted so that's to be expected. I've watched some college tape on Johnson and the first thing you notice is that he flat backs his defender on the first couple of plays so it's hard not to immediately like the guy, small-school competition aside. Regardless, Carroll and Schneider are all about what a guy can do rather than what he can't do, and I'll be damned if that blurb doesn't sound like a right guard in this system. In fact, if you took the name out, you might think Nawrocki was describing J.R. Sweezy. Light on his feet, fluid movement for a big man, outstanding pulling ability (for cut blocking, not necessarily pulling), solid base. Flashes some nasty, and my favorite, meat hooks for hands.
Past that, we have John Moffitt, who is another wild card. At this moment, I'm not necessarily high on his potential, but off-field distractions aside, at worst, Moffitt is quality depth at three positions on the interior. He could start at right guard, but I think it's more likely he's a swing guard/center that can come in if guys get banged up during the course of a game and you wouldn't see a big dip in effectiveness. He's a guy that can start three or four games for you if you need. That's a valuable thing.
Same goes for Paul McQuistan, whose biggest value lies in the fact that he can play left tackle. When you look at this roster, if McQuistan goes, Russell Okung's backup is Mike Person. That might be an intriguing thing to see - Person at left tackle protecting Russell Wilson's blindside - but I don't know if this team wants to bank on that as their best option there. McQuistan can step in and play both tackle positions and both guard positions so he's a guy that could stick as a quality backup even if James Carpenter ends up healthy and starting at LG.
As for the rest of the depth, the guys that I am excited to see play in the preseason are Michael Bowie - Seattle's presumptive backup right tackle with the departure of Frank Omiyale, and Alvin Bailey, another potential backup left tackle. Bailey played guard in college and like Rishaw Johnson, was originally a mid-round type of prospect - it's unclear why exactly he fell into rookie free agency, but he's a physical specimen and the Seahawks are hoping that he can play tackle at the next level. That should be interesting to see.
Ryan Seymour is another guy that could surprise as a versatile interior type lineman. Derek Stephens intrigued with this appraisal of Seymour at the Seahawks mandatory Mini-Camp:
"Ryan Seymour (Seattle's 7th round pick out of Vanderbilt) has, by far, the quickest feet of any offensive lineman in camp. He's not the road-grader type we've grown accustomed to seeing in Tom Cable's system, but he's extremely fluid in his lower half, exhibits consistent technique both in anchoring drills and in lateral drills, and displays consistent hand placement inside his opponent's chest."
"His versatility and quickness are clearly the appeal. Fluid enough to line up at tackle (as he did often in school), but savvy, flexible and leverage-aware enough to get under interior defenders and hold his ground. A bit light in the upper half, and has room to add bulk there, which he'll probably need to do if he's ever going to start consistently in a scheme as reliant on power as this one."
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