In what was a rare situation for Pete Carroll’s Seahawks, Damien Lewis arrived in training camp with a starting spot in his hands. John Schneider admitted as much when, two days after Lewis was selected, Seattle released D.J. Fluker. After the incumbent starter was let go, Schneider said of the situation at right guard, “Once we drafted Damien everybody felt like we were drafting a starting right guard in the National Football League. He’s just a man.”
While Schneider was right to be optimistic about Lewis’s future as a starter in the NFL and move on from Fluker, without any rookie minicamps or OTAs to work with, it would be difficult to get a sense of Lewis’s immediate transition to the pros. By releasing Fluker, however, that didn’t seem to matter: the team’s third-round selection was to either sink or swim as a rookie.
Despite the blank preseason schedule this year, early returns are promising. Lewis has drawn almost exclusively glowing praise from coaches and teammates. Asked about Lewis on Monday, Pete Carroll couldn’t hide his excitement:
He’s a special football player. He’s got a tremendous body for the position. He’s got great body mass, and he’s really powerful. You can see him in positions already, torqueing, showing that he can return to balance really well, which is great for an offensive lineman. He’s really smart. He’s studied really hard. Guys already can sense that you can count on him to know what’s going on. He’s off to a really good start. He moves well on the second level. He’s showing us that he can pull and get on the edge. He’s done nothing but good stuff so far.
Carroll gushed over the entire offensive line on Monday and has seemingly taken a special liking to Lewis and Stephen Sullivan, both of whom were coached by Carroll’s former USC colleague Ed Orgeron.
What about Duane Brown, the brilliantly spoken left tackle, then:
I think Damien Lewis is going to be a baller. He’s looked really good. He didn’t have a typical rookie offseason, he had to learn everything at home. He was really able to retain a lot of information and to be able to see him physically in practice in 1-on-1s, he’s been stellar. And we have a good group of defensive linemen. They make us work. And (Lewis) has a lot of ability. He’s strong. Plays with great leverage. He can move well. We’ve had a lot of guys that have been standing out, but him stepping in as a rookie in his first NFL action, he’s been that guy to me.
It is not unusual for a team to heap praise upon a player they are excited about, but what makes the admiration around Lewis so encouraging is that it suggests his development remains on the same trajectory it has been on for several years.
As a high school recruit in Mississippi, Lewis was unranked.
Undeterred, Lewis went to JuCo program Northwest Mississippi Community College, where he started for two seasons and earned two All-American selections.
From there, Lewis transferred to the powerhouse that is LSU, a massive step up from his previous stop.
All Lewis did in that part of his story was start 28 straight games, allow just 5 sacks and 13 hurries in 1,089 pass blocking snaps, be named second-team All-SEC in 2019, help LSU’s offensive line to win the Joe Moore Award as the best unit in the country, and end his collegiate career with a national championship.
From Week 11 of his senior season until Lewis was crowned a national champion, the Tigers’ right guard graded as Pro Football Focus’s best guard in the nation.
Unranked. Junior College. LSU. The best guard in the country. Now, a rookie on an overhauled offensive line overwhelmed with praise and new information.
Of course, maybe the praise Lewis has earned is premature and he struggles, understandably so, out of the gate. That is certainly a possibility, even more so in the incredibly bizarre 2020 season. However, the early reviews of Lewis’s transition to the NFL suggest that the upward trajectory he has been on for several years, which has seen him improve at every stop, will continue in the NFL. If that does end up being the case, the Seahawks’ entire offensive line could find themselves on an upward trajectory, too.