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Seattle Seahawks

Laken Tomlinson already bringing his leadership to Seahawks, offensive line

By Kate Shefte Seattle Times

RENTON, Wash. – The names and faces at the VMAC have changed, but the reputation remains, as Laken Tomlinson was pleased to discover.

Tomlinson hopes to bring his guidance to a new-look Seahawks offense as their projected starting left guard.

“I heard a lot about the culture here and it just goes to show that all those things I’ve heard over the years – they’re true, man,” Tomlinson said this week at the Seahawks’ mandatory minicamp. “I’m excited to get this season rolling.”

Despite being a newcomer, the veteran is being asked to help shape the Seahawks’ locker-room culture. Coach Mike Macdonald confirmed that Tomlinson, 32, is one of nine members of the leadership team.

“(He) kind of hits you right between the eyes, communication-wise, which is what we’re asking for,” Macdonald said.

Macdonald described the leadership team as a “conduit,” channeling messages from the coaches to the team, and vice versa. It’s already working – perhaps a little too well. Macdonald lightheartedly suggested that the group might have been the source of a leak that Thursday’s practice, the last one of minicamp, had been canceled and summer break would begin early.

Players who have seen many winters and “have a lot of respect” from teammates and coaches make up the leadership team. Tomlinson – encouraging and dancing his way through this week’s practices like he was perfectly comfortable at the VMAC – fit the bill.

“(Tomlinson) brings a veteran presence through the offensive line, some poise,” Macdonald said. “A guy that has seen a lot of ball, been in a lot of different systems.”

When he retires he wants to embrace another calling. Tomlinson graduated from Duke with degrees in evolutionary anthropology and psychology and shadowed former Blue Devils linebacker Carlos Bagley, who became a neurosurgeon. After his playing career, Tomlinson intends to attend medical school.

“It’s been my dream. It’s always been my dream,” he said of resuming his studies. “Build a hospital in Jamaica. That’s part of the process for myself, to get that done, and that’s something that’s truly a part of me.”

Ten-year-old Tomlinson moved to the U.S. in 2003 from Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, Jamaica. He joined his grandparents, who had a vision for their 10 kids and extended family and had relocated to Chicago’s Rogers Park area. Now listed at 6-foot-3 and 323 pounds, Tomlinson was a small kid at the time.

“My grandma had everything in the fridge. She took real good care of us,” Tomlinson said. “I’d never had a hamburger or pizza before.

“My first summer I gained, like, 60 pounds and grew 6 inches. My body just exploded. My mom saw it and was like, ‘You need to get out the house.’ ”

His uncle recommended American football, which he’d barely heard of before moving to the States. He gave it a try in order to make his mom happy.

“She brought me out for a practice and here I am,” he said.

Tomlinson went on to become Detroit’s first-round pick (28th overall) in 2015. He has started 138 NFL games.

He debuted with the Lions and spent five years in San Francisco. In 2021, while a member of the New York Jets, he was credited with giving up just one sack and made the Pro Bowl. Tomlinson started all 17 games each of the past two seasons for the Jets, but they didn’t bring him back.

The Seahawks were in the market for interior offensive linemen. On the left side, Damien Lewis departed in free agency and signed with Carolina. Phil Haynes, the starting right guard to open last season, is still a free agent. The Seahawks didn’t sign Tomlinson until April 15, presumably in part to give them options in the upcoming draft. They wound up taking a right guard in the third round – Christian Haynes out of UConn, 81st overall.

According to Pro Football Focus, zone blocking is one of Tomlinson’s strengths, which makes him a good fit for the current run game. Entering his 10th NFL season, his career has been marked by durability, which he credits to luck and offseason work.

“You talk about the best ability being availability, right? We’re talking about 130-plus starts for him, 90-some in a row,” assistant general manager Nolan Teasley said. “He doesn’t miss time and he’s been a key cog of some good offensive lines that we’re familiar with down in San Francisco.”

Tomlinson’s grandfather, Ivan Wilson, who set it all in motion, didn’t get to see him reach the NFL. He died from stomach ulcers at 84 in 2008 after he returned to Jamaica. That fuels the dream of building a hospital – Wilson’s death was likely preventable.

With two kids younger than 5, Tomlinson hasn’t returned to Jamaica since before the pandemic. But eventually, he wants to show his children the “really rich culture” he grew up in.

“My grandma was able to see (their) dream realized,” he said. “I will let my children know that, because that’s extremely important in my heart and why I do what I do.”