RENTON, Wash. – Ray Willis is not smiling, which constitutes a potential problem.
This is 315 pounds of potential malice we’re talking about here, and he has just been asked why so many people tend to fight him in practice. The big man is not amused by this line of questioning.
“I don’t know,” said Willis, an offensive tackle. “It’s just that coach Jim Mora runs a tough camp, and I think that sometimes tempers just kind of run a little high.”
That’s probably true, but it doesn’t answer why Willis is the one Seahawk who tends to cause those tempers to boil over more than any other. In fact, Mora forecast that he would be involved in the first skirmish of training camp.
It came, in fact, in the first practice. Defensive end Lawrence Jackson was locked up with Willis in a 1-on-1 drill last Friday, and Willis held on a little too long for Jackson’s taste. That elicited an open-handed smack from Jackson – and just like that it was on. The two had to be separated.
“It happens,” Willis said. “It’s football. It’s a man’s game.”
Still no smile.
Let’s ask someone else. Why does it seem that everybody wants to fight Willis in practice?
“Well, I don’t think they want to fight him,” said center Chris Spencer, his teammate on the offensive line. “I think they just fall into it. They wake the demon up in him, and then they’ve got no choice.”
Willis is a fifth-year player, a social-science major from Florida State and the father of twins who practices hot yoga twice a week in the offseason. Put him in cleats and a helmet, though, and he has some menace to him.
“When he gets on the field, everything else just shuts off,” Spencer said.
“You gotta’ love him,” Seahawks defensive tackle Craig Terrill said. “It’s his fifth year now, usually a guy is a little calmer at practice. But it’s like it’s his first training camp.”
The Seahawks drafted Willis in the fourth round in 2005, the year Sean Locklear established himself as the starting right tackle. That left Willis waiting his turn in line. That came last year after injuries opened the way for him to start seven games at right tackle, three at right guard.
He played well enough that many expected the Seahawks to lose him in free agency over the offseason. He visited the Raiders, but teams weren’t spending this year like they had in previous years, which made it possible for the Seahawks to re-sign him to a two-year deal.
Now Willis is a consideration as Seattle tries to configure its offensive line with a new blocking scheme. Left tackle Walter Jones has practiced only once in training camp so Locklear has moved to the left side, leaving Willis to play right tackle with the first string. Willis gets time off every couple of days to rest his knee, too.
But when Willis practices, he doesn’t hold anything back. In fact, he usually cinches in a block and refuses to let go.
“Sometimes, it gets on your nerves a little bit is a nice way to put it when you’re on his team and he’s doing it in camp,” Terrill said. “But on Sundays during the season, you like that he’s out there doing it to his opposing team.”
The Seahawks waived reserve linebacker Tony Taylor and signed former Western Washington University linebacker Shane Simmons.
Simmons, a Kentlake High graduate, was in Seattle’s minicamp in April for a tryout.
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