Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks’ moves signal surprising Drew Nowak the new center

Drew Nowak appeared to win the Seahawks starting center battle when the team terminated Lemuel Jeanpierre’s contract on Monday.
Drew Nowak appeared to win the Seahawks starting center battle when the team terminated Lemuel Jeanpierre’s contract on Monday. The Associated Press

Summer surprise Drew Nowak has apparently won the Seahawks’ starting center job, in an upset.

And eight wide receivers — including former Washington Huskies Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams — remain in competition for seven or perhaps six spots on the regular-season roster at that position.

That was the upshot of the 15 roster moves Seattle announced Monday, to get down to the league’s roster limit of 75 by its Tuesday deadline.

Veteran center Lemuel Jeanpierre had his contract terminated Monday after entering the offseason as the expected heir apparent to Max Unger, who was traded to New Orleans for Jimmy Graham.

The Seahawks also traded wide receiver Kevin Norwood, the 2014 fourth-round draft choice who missed the first half of last season following foot surgery, to Carolina. Seattle gets an undisclosed pick in 2017 conditional on whether Norwood makes the Panthers’ regular-season roster and then what he does on it this season.

Wide receiver Paul Richardson (reconstructive knee surgery in January) and cornerback Jeremy Lane (broken arm and torn knee ligaments in February’s Super Bowl) went on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list for the start of the regular season, as expected. They do not count against the roster but become eligible to return to it after the first six weeks of the regular season.

The remainder of the moves: Seattle terminated the contract of defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith and waived tackle Jesse Davis, cornerback George Farmer, wide receivers Deshon Foxx and Deontay Greenberry, cornerback Keelan Johnson, linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, defensive end Greg Scruggs, safety Ty Zimmerman, fullback Brandon Cottom and cornerback Triston Wade. Cottom and Wade were waived with injury settlements.

The Seahawks must get their current 75 players down to a 53-man roster for the start of the regular season by 1 p.m. Saturday. Their exhibition finale is Thursday against Oakland.

Jeanpierre was Unger’s primary backup at center the past five seasons. The Seahawks brought him back on a one-year, $745,000 contract this spring. Terminating that deal means Nowak now has the job Unger held for six seasons.

Nowak has come a long way since he was chopping wood as a teen in his native Wisconsin, and when he was a defensive tackle at Western Michigan four years ago, and a guard on Seattle’s practice squad last season. Line coach Tom Cable has been impressed with Nowak’s strength. He has stood up defensive linemen and linebackers while clearing running lanes and pass blocking this month in practice and three exhibition games.

The simple fact has been Nowak hasn’t been getting moved back. Plus, he has apparently proved to Cable he has enough of a mastery of the pre-snap blocking calls on which he has improved dramatically since June’s minicamp.

Jeanpierre started throughout offseason workouts and then in the exhibition opener against Denver this month. The Broncos sacked quarterback Russell Wilson twice in two drives, including forcing a fumble and recovering at Seattle’s 11-yard line on the game’s second play.

Nowak became the first-string center in the first practice following that game.

This doesn’t mean the Seahawks still couldn’t go out and add a veteran center who may become available with cuts around the league over the next week. But bringing in a new center this soon before the regular season — it begins in less than two weeks — would be an unusual move that would disrupt whatever continuity and chemistry Seattle’s shaky, remade line has achieved so far.

Norwood had bone spurs removed in his foot at the start of last year’s training camp, a condition the team found to be leftover from his college career at Alabama. He started months behind because of that, missing seven games last season and never caught up to others in Seattle’s crowded field of receivers. He had nine catches in nine games last season, then two more this month through three exhibition games.

Norwood is the third wide receiver coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have drafted in the fourth round over the past five years to not make it to a second Seahawks season. Kris Durham (2011) and Chris Harper (2013) are the others.

The Seahawks kept seven wide receivers to begin last season and six the year before.

Smith and Williams may be battling each other in a Husky faceoff for a final spot, with production and hustle on special teams in Thursday’s game likely a key determinant.

“That’s a big part of this,” said Smith, who like Williams is on all four of Seattle’s special-teams units right now. “And I want to do it, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Smith is on the Seahawks’ roster for the second consecutive year in his comeback from a torn knee ligament just before the 2011 Alamo Bowl. He was one of Wilson’s targets in the third quarter of Saturday’s preseason game in San Diego. He ran a deep post route to the goal line, but the Chargers broke up that pass with double coverage.

When asked Thursday what impression he thinks he’s made so far, Smith said: “Just being consistent knowing what to do, and being trustworthy with the quarterback first and then with the offensive coordinator.”

Williams, an undrafted rookie coming back from a broken leg and foot injury that sidetracked his UW career, had a big catch on fourth down with 55 seconds left to get the Seahawks to the San Diego 36. His catch on his only target Saturday set up Steven Hauschka’s 60-yard field goal with 16 seconds left that won the game, 16-15.

Scruggs, Seattle’s seventh-round draft choice in 2012, spent all of 2013 on injured reserve with a knee injury. He played three games for the team last season. His release means Jesse Williams remains in contention for a spot as a hole-stuffing defensive tackle three months after he had surgery to remove a cancerous kidney.

A sketch of where Seahawks wide receivers stand entering the final exhibition game Thursday against Oakland. The team kept seven WRs on its 53-man roster to begin last regular season, six to start the seasons before that.

Doug Baldwin: a lock as the No. 1 WR

Jermaine Kearse: locked at No. 2

Tyler Lockett: a lock — and a blur — as the third receiver

Chris Matthews: not a sure thing. But Carroll sure is intrigued by his Super Bowl breakout, and him being 6 feet 5

(Paul Richardson: will begin season on PUP list following January knee surgery, exempt from the roster for at least first six weeks of regular season)

Ricardo Lockette: Could keep his spot solely because of special teams — or lose it if Kevin Smith can prove adept at those

B.J. Daniels: Has versatility, tenacity coaches love. Can be an emergency QB in a pinch.

Kevin Smith: Getting reps with first offense lately, on all four special teams. He needs huge, effort plays on those Thursday.

Kasen Williams: Big catch on fourth down at end of Saturday’s game. May not be showing enough on special teams to make roster, but practice squad a real possibility