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Position Group Preview: Offensive line continuity ignored in favor of upside

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Seemingly every year, Pete Carroll preaches the importance of continuity along the offensive line. And every year, the Seahawks pursue just that, with about the same conviction as they pass protect. In 2020, Carroll’s apparent desire for continuity preceded a near-total overhaul, with at least three of five starters from a year ago replaced. Despite the turnover up front, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the youth and upside at several positions.

Expected group

For the third full season, Duane Brown will man the left side of Seattle’s line, joined by either the veteran Mike Iupati, who performed very well in 2019, or sophomore Phil Haynes. In the middle, long-time starter Justin Britt has been replaced by B.J. Finney. The right guard job appears to be rookie Damien Lewis’s to lose, while Brandon Shell should get the nod to replace Germain Ifedi at right tackle.

Dark horse

After a brief free agency stint, the tantalizing Jordan Simmons is back in the mix, healthy for the time being. Simmons’ 2018 starts were strong—the Seahawks averaged 218 yards on the ground in his three starts—but so too are the indications that he simply can’t hold up health-wise, having started just five games over the last eight years. However, with just Lewis ahead of him at right guard, he could push for a starting spot out of the gate.

Also on the right side, while Shell was brought in to replace Ifedi, he could be pushed Chad Wheeler, who has previous experience under Mike Solari, including five starts in 2017. Shell should be seen as the favorite, but Wheeler will likely be in the mix.

Reason for optimism

Excluding Brown, who is a legitimate top-tier left tackle when healthy, some of the steadiest performances up front over the last two seasons have come from Iupati and D.J. Fluker. What do those two have in common? They were hand-picked Solari additions. Now, the entire unit except for Brown has come in under Solari. Haynes and Lewis are high-upside players perfectly suited to play under Seattle’s offensive line coach, Finney has impressed in small sample sizes and Shell could be the latest plug-and-play veteran.

An offensive line made up of five competent (or better!) starters has to be massively exciting for the Seahawks.

Where it could go wrong

Now heading into his age-35 season, 2019 saw Brown battle through upper- and lower-body injuries throughout the season. While he was still the steadiest presence for a middling group, it was a reminder that Seattle’s left tackle could fall off the proverbial cliff at any time. Unfortunately, so too could Iupati, 33, and not exactly a picture of good health.

Beyond the age factor on the left, the lack of time together will certainly hamper the entire unit’s cohesion. Finney will take charge of an offensive line for the first time in his career and have to do so with teammates he has never played with before. That will have a ripple effect across the line and on Russell Wilson. In 2016, Howard Mudd spoke of the impact reduced on-field time was having on offensive line performance. Carroll voiced similar concerns this offseason. The cancellation of spring work and preseason will impact all offensive lines, especially those with such high turnover, like the Seahawks.

Outlook

Though there are very real concerns surrounding Seattle’s offensive line, such is the standard up front over the last decade that even a middle-of-the-road group in pass protection would be welcome. With veterans who fit Solari’s wants and young players with obvious upside, they can reach average and even exceed it. It may be rough out of the gate but with time, the Seahawks’ offensive line could become an afterthought—a welcome change after years of headaches.