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The Drive: Hope for Po’

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Seattle Seahawks v Tennessee Titan Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

For over 20 years now one of the greatest comedians of our time has laughed a fake laugh.

That’s tragic to me. Not Turgenev tragic but Beckett tragic, maybe, anyway ...

In the National Football League, those who will be good are usually good fast. Requisite skills are easily mastered. Talent is at its peak. By mid-September teams know if they’ve drafted Javon Kearse or Lawrence Jackson. And hoping Jackson becomes Kearse is the kind of fool’s errand desperate bloggers seeking hopeful storylines in lost seasons pursue at their own discredit. It’s not gonna happen, 20-something me. Also, all of your dreams will be crushed.

Which is part of why Ethan Pocic, even just the printed name “Ethan Pocic,” is likely to inspire not hope but dread. He wasn’t supposed to start. His sudden importance, one could argue, is a failure of design. Seattle invested nearly three million mediocre hamburgers to sign Mike Iupati. Iupati’s out with mid-life entropy, and one can’t be sure when or even if he will ever regain full operational function of his musculoskeletal system.

And so Po’:

I too suffer ADHD, dear reader.

It is fortunate for us and for the young man in question that offensive linemen age differently than most positions. It is the most strength dependent and the least speed dependent of all positions, excepting specialists. Strength accumulates over time. Until roughly the age of 30, men gain rather than lose muscle mass. Among what Wikipedia describes as “master-class athletes,” of which group Pocic is surely a member, maintenance of muscle mass is possible until about 40. Po has time to get stronger and many years before the great thief begins to steal that strength away.

Which is good because I think it is fair to say strength, especially the kind scouts describe as “sand in the pants,” has been one of Pocic’s greatest weaknesses. And it’s good because if strength has hamstrung him, there is a good explanation for that lack. Like Conan, Pocic got the job young, perhaps too young, and like Conan, it may be that the ensuing trial by fire hardened and strengthened him in just the way he needed.

To put it into perspective, Pocic is roughly one month older than L.J. Collier. He’s freshly 24. Even among Hall of Fame inductees, very few were elected to a Pro Bowl prior to turning 24. Some of that has to do with the fame-based nature of Pro Bowl selection, and some of that has to do with the dearth of players who entered the league as young as Pocic entered the league (21!), but some of that has to do with the jump in skill, and some of that has to do with the jump in opposing talent. Defenders are not only bigger, quicker and stronger, they’re much more likely to have mastered a varied set of moves.

I’m dithering. Let’s get to the tape. According to the gamebook, Pocic played 41 snaps against the Chargers. Here is a selection of plays I found instructive or exciting.

1ST & 10 AT SEA 22(13:03)

(13:03) C.Carson up the middle to SEA 27 for 5 yards (C.Hayward, J.Brown).

Pocic and Justin Britt double Damion Square back two yards before Pocic disengages and blocks out Kyzir White.

3RD & 5 AT LAC 46(09:25)

(9:25) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete deep left to M.Turner.

Malik Turner broke some ankles getting free but Russell Wilson missed the pass (and, arguably, Turner stumbled in his attempt to find the ball.)

Pocic does an adequate job of clearing his man wide but Justin Jones (#93) splits the double team of Britt and DJ Fluker. This interior pressure leaves Wilson with no pocket to step into.

2ND & 10 AT SEA 27(01:36)

(1:36) (Shotgun) R.Penny up the middle to SEA 34 for 7 yards (K.White; I.Rochell).

Opposing defenses sit run when Rashaad Penny is in the huddle. This I think is why Penny has suffered such inferior blocking, but until Penny improves as a receiver and pass blocker, I think this will continue.

(In Penny’s defense, Duane Brown was the first to blow his block on the above defender, Pat Afriyie.

) One way to defeat this tendency is to fake, by way of formation, pass. And so Seattle did.

Pocic puts Jones on skates.

And goes on to give many a lump to Jatavius Brown (but ‘twas all in good fun.)

3RD & 3 AT SEA 34(00:56)

(:56) (Shotgun) R.Wilson scrambles left end ran ob at SEA 45 for 11 yards (A.Phillips).

Pocic pops into a defacto right tackle ...

and mans the position well.

1ST & 10 AT SEA 45(00:18)

(:18) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short middle to J.McKissic to SEA 38 for -7 yards (P.Afriyie).

This play went to smash but while McKissic was losing yards Pocic was wielding Jerry Tillery like a capped ram.

Tillery attempted to disengage by turning or spinning. Pocic took him for a violent stroll through the second level once he ceded leverage.

Indeed, I could go on, but line play is matchup based and Los Angeles was not playing its best defensive linemen. I don’t want to ascribe too much importance to tape of too low value.

Last week I wrote a crummy column. This I knew as I wrote it but I was stuck. When I had 70 hours to dedicate to this, I would sometimes scrap bad posts before publication and sometimes afterward. Nowadays I have four to ten and, once started, almost nothing can be deleted. Even revision can be a luxury. I was finishing a stressful stretch of days. My mind was a bit hampered by my methods of stress relief. And my hopes were disappointed by a particularly crummy game of preseason football.

I only shoot off one arrow a week and the particular inspiration given me by Jazz Ferguson is rare. If I am a member of the media, well, I am human, and humans are biased. Selfishly, I am inclined to ride this Ferguson story best I can. I’ve never even read Ethan Frome, so ...

It’s a bit sucky piling on a guy who very recently had the tensile strength of his neck tested, but Paxton Lynch was, for lack of a better way to put it, an ez fall guy. He’s sort of out group in this thing we do, only a Seahawk briefly and ingloriously. Life has made me 260 IBU bitter, and being a Seahawks fan gives me ample excuse to be partial, optimistic and warm, when I am too often caustic, guarded and fault-finding. Lynch indirectly hurt my dude and me, and I directly bashed him for doing nothing worse than his very best against very strong competition.

This process of fart huffing, of confusing personal and professional interests for (lol) objectivity, is only a scourge I think if we deny it. As best as I can, I try to be honest about my own personal biases, and as best as I can, I still attempt to tell the truth. This whole post in some small way was inspired by an impulsive comment I left comparing Pocic to Kevin Mawae. That’s called a hasty generalization. I also do Texas Sharp Shooter fallacies.

In this way I have invested a little extra hope in Ethan Pocic. I don’t gamble. Gambling compulsion and heroin addiction are two hereditary curses I don’t screw with. I write out my opinions, I remember those opinions, and I gamble the fido that is the currency of my reputation on those opinions. It’s not such a bad game.

This offseason Seattle somewhat bet against Pocic and somewhat bet on Pocic and against the respective fitness of Fluker and Iupati. The latter two are preternaturally massive earthmovers. Neither moves well or has enjoyed a particularly great run of health. Probably Seattle wants both to play 16 games—19 games! But when that doesn’t happen, Pocic offers a versatile and steadily improving complement. He doesn’t block out the sun. The needed sand in his pants is still steadily trickling down the hour glass. He may ultimately be better fit for center. Or too tall for that and thus a JR Sweezy-like journeyman. But in my biased and partial projection of this season, I think a pretty quick, pretty strong, pretty agile and damn feisty dude who can play any one of the box in Seattle’s box-and-one style O-line is pretty damn valuable.