Seattle Seahawks

Offensive linemen roulette continues for wary Seahawks

Justin Britt, a second-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, moves from right tackle to starting left guard. Britt played guard in college at Missouri five years ago.
Justin Britt, a second-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, moves from right tackle to starting left guard. Britt played guard in college at Missouri five years ago. The Associated Press

On one hand, the sudden scrutiny of the Seahawks offensive line, after just one exhibition game, is an overreaction.

The Hawks have played with a yard-sale offensive front for the past couple seasons, and they’ve gone to two Super Bowls and led the league in rushing last season.

Over the past two seasons, quarterback Russell Wilson has seen a cavalcade of 13 different starting fives squat down in front of him. With so much turnover, he couldn’t pick those rumps out of a lineup.

The juggling, because of injury and ineffectiveness, kills continuity and the cohesion needed by an offensive line, the most interdependent group on the field.

But after right tackle Justin Britt was moved to left guard, and backup left tackle Garry Gilliam was shuffled over to starting right tackle during Monday’s training camp practice, the composition of the line became hottest topic since Ciara showed up at camp and Kam Chancellor did not.

Why is it so important now?

Duh. The Seahawks just committed $87.6 million in their quarterback, which is roughly $87 million more than he was making last season.

People who invest in Lamborghinis are reluctant to enter them in demolition derbies.

Coach Pete Carroll saw just about all he needed in the first preseason game, as Wilson was as defenseless as a tin duck in a carnival shooting gallery, and backup Tarvaris Jackson suffered a high-ankle sprain on a sack that could, easily, have happened when Wilson was taking snaps.

If that had been Wilson’s ankle instead of Jackson’s, the offensive line might have been fired on the spot.

Carroll acknowledged after practice Monday that changes had to be made, they couldn’t wait around.

Britt has just not been nimble enough to stop rush ends or linebackers in space, and might be better in the tighter confines at left guard, a position that has been a revolving door — in both manpower and execution.

Gilliam is rangy and raw, and had been considered a possible long-term replacement for Russell Okung at left tackle. He’s athletic, though, with quicker feet developed as a tight end in college at Penn State.

Gilliam looked good in the one-on-one pass session, doing well against both Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Britt, meanwhile, once looked like a matador against a hard-charging Jordan Hill.

As these two shift positions, it’s worth noting that Britt was a second-round draft pick, and Gilliam was an undrafted free agent.

It may be too early and perhaps unfair in that regard, but Britt’s career trajectory seems to trace the same path as that of James Carpenter, a first-round pick moved from right tackle to left guard, and then allowed to leave as an underachieving free agent.

Maybe that’s the natural course of things in this system, which seems unequipped to pay offensive linemen with their second contracts. Essentially, then, offensive linemen are on scholarships, like the college guys.

They are picked up cheaply, low in the draft or as free agents, developed and coached up to be somewhat functional, and then allowed to leave and clear the way for the next group of raw recruits.

That’s the phase they’re in now. They’ve been able to make it work because Wilson is elusive and thus far indestructible, and running back Marshawn Lynch creates running room where none exists through the efforts of the line.

But it’s a dangerous approach.

Maybe it’s unrelated, but I saw an interesting drill that I’d never seen before early in practice Monday. Wilson and R.J. Archer, currently the lone backup quarterback, were directed over near a sideline, next to a giant horizontal pad.

The drill involved them running toward the sideline with the ball, and assuming a protective position as “defenders” knocked them onto the padded surface.

The only thing that could be inferred by observers was that the staff was spending time coaching the quarterbacks on how best to deal with being clobbered.

Timely and foresighted.

Unless this changing cast of offensive linemen quickly gels into an effective unit, Wilson is going to need all the help he can get with self-preservation techniques.

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