SEATTLE – During the Seahawks’ minicamp last month, offensive line coach Tom Cable made what might have seemed like a surprising admission.
“I’m the most excited coach on the staff right now,’’ Cable said as he then recounted how he felt the team had made the additions needed to revamp a group that was heavily criticized in 2016 and generally seen as the Seahawks’ weakest position group.
“Our personnel guys nailed this,’’ Cable said.
Not everyone is as impressed, though.
Pro Football Focus on Tuesday released its preseason rankings of all 32 NFL offensive lines and slotted Seattle dead last.
Wrote PFF: “Even with the addition of Luke Joeckel, there’s little reason to think this won’t yet again be the worst offensive line in the NFL. They finished dead last a season ago in snap-adjusted run-blocking grade and snap-adjusted pass-blocking grade. Getting PFF’s lowest-graded left tackle, George Fant, out of the starting lineup should help, but it won’t fix the unit overnight.’’
You can scoff at PFF’s rankings. But as a Monday Morning Quarterback story also published Tuesday notes, PFF carries a lot of weight around the NFL with 26 teams subscribing to the site and perusing its numbers.
That obviously doesn’t mean the ranking impacts anything that will happen on the field in the fall. But it does suggest that the view around the NFL remains that Seattle’s weak link is the offensive line and that the team’s offseason moves are no guarantee of improvement, which is the more relevant part of any OL discussion.
And, in fact, what PFF cites as one reason it thinks the line could be better even if the Seahawks might dispute it – moving Fant out out of the starting lineup – may not happen.
Fant worked with the first team at left tackle throughout the offseason program with Joeckel at left guard, which seems to be the alignment the team prefers for that side of the line even if the common assumption when Joeckel was signed was that he would take over the left tackle spot.
Joeckel signed a one-year, $8 million contract after spending his first four seasons with Jacksonville, which had made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft but didn’t bother to pick up an option for the fifth year of his contract allowing him to become a free agent.
While Joeckel mostly played tackle with the Jaguars, he spent last season at guard until suffering a knee injury in October. Cable said in an interview on ESPN 710 Seattle that Joeckel was playing as well as any guard in the NFL at the time of his injury and GM John Schneider has also said the team thinks Joeckel may be a better fit at guard than tackle.
If guard is where Joeckel ends up, then Fant is pretty much the only realistic option at left tackle to start the season.
The rest of the No. 1 line throughout the offseason program consisted of Justin Britt at center, Mark Glowinski at right guard (moved back there after playing last season on the left side) and Germain Ifedi at right tackle (moving back to his more regular college position after playing guard last season).
Reviewing the line in that manner makes it understandable why observers both near and far may be skeptical of a quick turnaround as Seattle is banking its hopes on a free agent who has been viewed as a disappointment during his career and is coming off of major knee surgery and four returners the team hopes will simply get better (two by moving to what the team feels may be more natural and better positions).
That the biggest improvement in the line will come via the improvement of the young players is essentially the point coach Pete Carroll made when minicamp concluded.
“I think probably the biggest area that we’re going to see us grow is in offensive line play,” Carroll said. “I think you’re going to see a change in the group and an elevation of their awareness based on that one year of experience and coming back for a sophomore year and things just jump. George will tell you that, Britt will tell you that, Glow will tell you that, Ifedi – they’ll all tell you how much different it looks to them after a year in the bag. So we’re expecting a big jump there and a really competitive camp coming up.”
Cable and Carroll ave other reasons for optimism, notably the addition of free agent Oday Abousohi, who will compete with Glowinski at right guard; second-round pick Ethan Pocic, at the moment working mostly at right tackle but also able to play guard and center; and the hoped-for maturation of second-year player Rees Odhiambo, at the moment competing at both spots on the left side.
If the season began today, those eight players would seem set on the 53-man roster with the question then being if anyone else, such as undrafted rookie free agent Jordan Roos, plays well enough to also deserve a spot.
Will it be enough to allow the Seahawks’ offensive line to shed the ignominious reputation last season and justify Cable’s optimism?
That’s as intriguing and important as any question facing the Seahawks in 2017.
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