RENTON, Wash. – The reggae-playing big man talks, just not about himself. That’s Russell Okung’s ground rule for interviews, which is really kind of appropriate since he’s a left tackle, which means he’s paid to take care of others.
It’s not the statistics that define success at that position, but the lack of them. He’s responsible for neutralizing the pass rushers coming from his quarterback’s blind side, and there hasn’t been anyone better at that than Okung, who is from Houston and cites Jamaican roots as the reason he plays reggae in the locker room.
Okung has allowed just one sack, according to STATS Inc. That’s right: one. This despite a schedule that has been chock full of top-shelf pass rushers. So when Okung was named a starting tackle for the NFC in the Pro Bowl earlier this week, that had to be some validation for the man Seattle picked to succeed Walter Jones, right?
“That’s about me,” Okung said, sitting in his locker.
Translation: Next question. OK, let’s ask Tom Cable, then. He is Seattle’s offensive-line coach and in many ways the architect of this offense. What has he seen from the third-year tackle from Oklahoma State?
“This is a chance to see him grow and develop through the whole thing,” Cable said. “Then to stay healthy, you have to do that. His progression has been right where you hoped it would be.”
That’s saying something considering the expectations that awaited Okung in Seattle. He was the first player Seattle drafted under coach Pete Carroll, picked No. 6 overall in 2010. That’s the same draft spot where 13 years earlier Seattle chose Jones, who was only one of the best left tackles of his generation.
Okung started his career off on the wrong foot, so to speak, suffering a high-ankle sprain in his first exhibition game when a teammate missed a block and came crashing down on Okung’s leg. He came back only to injure the other ankle later in the same season. Last year, he suffered a torn pectoral muscle that kept him out for the final four games.
But this season, there has been no mistaking the big man’s impact. You just have to know where to look.
“Did you see what he did to 99 last week?” fullback Michael Robinson asked rhetorically.
That would be San Francisco’s Aldon Smith, whose 19 1/2 sacks are the most in the NFC. Smith was held without a sack by Seattle last week, only the fifth game this season he’s failed to get to the opposing quarterback at least once.
“Then in the first game we played them, you should have saw what he did to 94,” Robinson continued.
That would be Justin Smith, who’s one of the league’s top interior linemen. He missed last week’s game with an elbow injury, but in the first meeting – in Week 7 – Okung put Smith on his back, just pancaked him.
There are 17 players in the NFL who have totaled 10 or more sacks this season. The Seahawks have faced nine of them, including two games against the aforementioned Aldon Smith. Yet Seattle has allowed only 27 sacks this year, tied for eighth-fewest in the league.
Seattle has not allowed fewer than 30 sacks in any season since 2005, back when the Seahawks led the league in scoring and won 13 consecutive games.
Okung has been central to that, missing only one game in a season that has served as a demonstration on why he was so well regarded coming out of college.
“The fact that Russell has been healthy through the whole season, that’s helped Russell,” Robinson said. “It was never anything athletic or anything as far as his power or even experience. It was always, ‘Just be healthy, and when you’re healthy, you’ll be top-notch.’”
At a position that isn’t measured by statistics, Okung’s Pro Bowl selection constitutes a seal of approval even if Okung won’t talk about what it means to him, specifically, but only what it means to be among five different Seahawks selected to play in the Pro Bowl.
“It speaks volumes about the team and what we’ve been trying to put together,” Okung said.
As the big man answers, receiver Sidney Rice stops to stare, amazed the big man is answering questions at all.
“I hope you guys know, I hate this,” Okung said.