This was the starting lineup for the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season:
Left Tackle: Duane Brown
Left Guard: Damien Lewis
Center: Kyle Fuller/Ethan Pocic
Right Guard: Gabe Jackson
Right Tackle: Brandon Shell
Brown and Shell remain unsigned in free agency and there’s nothing to indicate either one of them will be returning to the Seahawks. Pocic is now with the Cleveland Browns on a cheap one-year free agent contract. Fuller was re-signed for some reason, while Lewis and Jackson figure to stay at their respective positions.
In free agency, Seattle’s only notable signing along the OL was Austin Blythe, who’s ties to the Los Angeles Rams made him an immediate target for new OL coach Andy Dickerson and current offensive coordinator Shane Waldron.
The NFL Draft was a different story. Charles Cross of Mississippi State was taken at No. 9 overall, with Washington State’s Abraham Lucas coming off the board at 72nd overall in Round 3. Cross figures to have the inside track as a Day 1 starter, whereas Lucas may be in serious competition with 2021 UDFA Jake Curhan, who filled in admirably in Shell’s absence in a handful of games.
The presumptive departures of Brown and Shell, as well as the confirmed departure of Pocic assures that there will be three new starters along the Seahawks OL in 2022. It’s very possible that both starting tackles will be rookies, which is hardly a common occurrence and should also immediately temper expectations that we’re going to witness anything resembling a competent unit.
Even if you have a very highly drafted lineman, he shouldn't be expected to be very good in his rookie season pic.twitter.com/ErhCLjQ0wo— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) May 5, 2022
Going strictly off ourlads for now (hopefully Lucas wins starting job at RT) but best guess at how good Seattle's pass protection will be next year? pic.twitter.com/DJfOvDn3s1— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) May 6, 2022
At OTAs on Thursday, Waldron expressed that if it unfolds as such, the team would be fine if we see Cross and Lucas as the starters.
“In my mind, by the time we get to that first game and the best guys are playing, they’ll have earned those positions,” Waldron said (via Seahawks.com). “And if it’s the two rookies, that means that they’ve beat out some guys that are good players in their own right. So, we have a lot of competition at those tackle positions. The draft obviously has taken that competition to a different level, as far as younger guys that are competing against each other. So, I think it’s going to be a great thing in the long run. And if those guys go out and earn that job, then you feel comfortable because they’ve earned it over other guys that have had a chance to play and play well in the NFL.”
Lest we forget the immediate depth at both tackle spots and center. Stone Forsythe didn’t play any offensive snaps after the project tackle was taken in Round 6 of last year’s draft, and the aforementioned Curhan didn’t start until December.
Meanwhile at center, beneath Blythe (who would figure to be the favorite to start) is Fuller, who ideally never sees the field after his disastrous 2021, Dakoda Shepley as a guard/center swing, and I suppose you can include Damien Lewis with his one emergency start at the middle of the line. Everyone else is camp fodder and/or was on the practice squad in the previous season.
If there’s any part of the Seahawks roster that most clearly screams “rebuild”, it’s offensive line. And perhaps the most important theme is the youth movement. Gabe Jackson and (in two weeks) Austin Blythe will both be 30, whereas every other projected starter is no older than 25. There’s a massive experience gap between those two and everyone else in the expected lineup, but the hope is that Cross, Lucas, and Lewis are all part of this squad in the long-term. It’s been well over a decade since the Seahawks have boasted an OL that’s deservedly considered one of the best in the NFL, I’d like to think that drought won’t continue for much longer ... just don’t get your hopes up too high to see immediately positive results in 2022. It’ll take time.