The Seattle Seahawks and their new regime addressed their biggest and most urgent needs by selecting All-American left tackle Russell Okung from Oklahoma State with the sixth overall choice in the NFL draft, then Texas All-American safety Earl Thomas at No. 14 overall.
“Today was a good day!!!” new Seahawks coach Pete Carroll posted on his Twitter page Thursday evening.
Carroll and new general manager John Schneider’s first strike in rebuilding the fallen franchise came in advance of the expected retirement of six-time All-Pro left tackle Walter Jones following two knee surgeries.
Actually, it was a second strike. Carroll took Okung bowling when he visited him before the draft.
“We had extra time and it was, ‘Hey, let’s go bowling,’ ” Okung said by telephone from the draft in New York, with his mother, Dorothy Akabio, at his side. “It didn’t go too well on my end, but it was a great game.”
What did the 6-foot-5, 302-pound Okung roll?
“Like a 50,” he said.
New Seahawks offensive line coach Alex Gibbs immediately gave the starting job to Okung, further cementing the belief Jones will not be back.
“He will be our starting left tackle day one, hour one, and we will live through whatever pain there is,” Gibbs said of Okung. “He’s going to be Walter’s replacement, obviously. … We wanted to make sure (that issue) was dealt with as quickly as possible.”
The second offensive tackle taken in the top six picks – two spots after Washington selected Oklahoma’s Trent Williams – is Seattle’s first tackle taken in the opening round since the 36-year-old Jones. Jones also went sixth overall, in 1997.
“I’m a bit overwhelmed,” said Okung, who is from Houston. “It’s definitely just a blessing to be considered. I think Seattle made the best choice.”
Okung sounded awed to be replacing Jones.
“He’s a great player … obviously a future Hall of Fame guy,” the 2009 Big 12 offensive lineman of the year said. “I can only hope I can be as good as him.”
Okung started 47 consecutive college games, the last 39 at left tackle, after arriving at Oklahoma State weighing 250 pounds.
The play-making Thomas fills the Seahawks’ most urgent need on defense. Seattle had just two safeties on the roster present for last week’s minicamp.
The Seahawks will fill Thomas’ most urgent need, whenever the two sides reach a contract agreement.
He left Texas after his sophomore season to enter the draft to help his parents find a new home.
His parents’ house in Orange, Texas, was destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Rita. His folks and all of their belongings are cramped into a room in Thomas’ grandparent’s house in Orange. The room is so small, the safety said it is the size of a young child’s space.
“That was one of the main reasons why I came out, because of the house situation,” Thomas said by telephone from a draft gathering of what he said was 400 people at the Sixth Street Community Church in Orange, where his grandfather is the pastor.
“I’m going to get them situated, and then go on from there. I just want to get them back on their feet and comfortable,” the 20-year-old said. “They’ve been taking care of me all my life. It’s just a great feeling for me just to be able to return the favor.”
Thomas set a Longhorns record last season with eight interceptions. Thomas started all 27 games of his college career, finishing with 149 tackles, and 10 interceptions. His two interception returns for touchdowns last season also set a Texas record.
•Also in the draft, from an early Oklahoma party to the Big 12’s dominance to Tim Tebow stealing the spotlight from overall top pick Sam Bradford, the NFL’s first prime-time draft was worthy of its Radio City Music Hall location.
Starting with quarterback Bradford going to the St. Louis Rams, five of the top six picks were from the Big 12 – three of them Sooners. In all, nine first-rounders came from the conference.
“That’s pretty cool because I know the Big 12 has been getting a lot of flack lately,” said Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner. “People for some reason didn’t think that we played much football in the Big 12 and sure didn’t think we played much defense, so for two defensive tackles to go in the first three picks is a credit to the Big 12.”
Give Denver credit for gambling on Tebow, the mystery man of this draft. When the Broncos took the Florida quarterback at No. 25, it drew the loudest reaction – a mix of cheers and boos – from the audience.
Tebow was the third Florida player chosen – and by far the most controversial selection. A winner for four years with the Gators, including two national championships and the 2007 Heisman, his unorthodox style and strange throwing motion made for widely divided opinions on him.
Bradford could be a slight gamble, as well. The Oklahoma junior who became the eighth quarterback since 2001 taken atop the draft, appeared in only three games in 2009, his junior year, before undergoing right shoulder surgery. His recovery has been so complete that the Rams didn’t hesitate to make him the future face of the franchise.
Bradford was immediately followed by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska, the AP Player of the Year; DT Gerald McCoy and OT Trent Williams, Bradford’s teammates with the Sooners.
Suh is considered the best defensive tackle prospect in more than a decade. He won the Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski trophies in 2009 and comes off a dominant Big 12 title game in which he had 12 tackles with 4 1/2 sacks.
“He made it an easy pick for us,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “He’s not just a one-year wonder. He’s strong. He’s good versus the run. He’s good versus the pass. He’s very intelligent.”
Tennessee safety Eric Berry, also an All-American, went fifth to Kansas City, breaking the Big 12 stranglehold. Berry, noted for his versatility, also has the potential to play cornerback.
After Seattle chose Okung, Florida cornerback Joe Haden was chosen by Cleveland, followed by Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain to Oakland.
Clemson running back C.J. Spiller went ninth to Buffalo.
Jacksonville took California DT Tyson Alualu with the 10th pick.