Pete Carroll tried to make everything sound OK with the Seahawks’ offensive line, but minutes after he spoke with reporters Monday, a trade was made with Philadelphia that brought Matt Tobin, 27, who, according to Pro Football Focus, was given in 2016 the worst pass-protection grade ever for a guard since the analytics site began in 2007.
The shadow that fell over the Seahawks’ shop in Renton wasn’t just an eclipse.
To some fans, it seems absurd that the season-ending loss Friday of LT George Fant, the improbable starter as a rookie last season despite no college experience with the football thing, could be a big deal, given how often over-matched he was last season.
But his improvement in physique and skills led the Seahawks coaches to say last week that Fant and newcomer Luke Joeckel had locked down the left side of the O-line for the season.
After a knee injury that will require surgery Monday to repair ACL and MCL tears, the ripple effect of Fant’s injury likely will disrupt the rest of the line less than three weeks before the start of the regular season.
Disruption is, of course, fairly standard among NFL lines because injuries and the salary cap being what they are — relentlessly cruel — someone is new almost every year.
But since the Seahawks by acclamation had the worst line in the league in 2016, and nevertheless still made the playoffs and won a game, the problem wasn’t crippling and could only get better. Fant was sufficiently big, strong, athletic and smart that he was a good bet to get to average by the end of the 2017 regular season.
Now, the Seahawks likely will shuffle multiple players in the next two weeks to find the five best linemen. It’s a major hassle, complicated by the fact that any off-roster answer is more likely to be available in the cut-down to 53 ahead of the start of the season instead of now.
Tobin and a free agent they picked up Saturday, OL Tyrus Thompson, who hasn’t gotten into a game in two seasons, are not answers. They were hired for depth so the Seahawks can mess around in the final two fake games to see what they can get away with.
“As of now, it gives us a challenge,” Carroll said, understating the matter. The next man up at left tackle is second-year man Rees Odhiambo, a third-round pick from Boise State who gave up two sacks Friday in relief of Fant, and added a holding penalty.
If he doesn’t work out, Joeckel could move over to the position. He was a tackle for most of four years in Jacksonville, where he was generally regarded as something of a bust. Seahawks line coach Tom Cable claimed the Jaguars’ move of Joeckel to guard last season made him one of the best in the NFL. Then he injured a knee in week 5 and was lost for the season to surgery.
Carroll Monday didn’t sound thrilled about moving Joeckel, the team’s highest-paid lineman (one year, $8 million), whose knee may not be agile or strong enough to handle the edge.
“Luke has been a starting left tackle in the NFL, he was drafted as that, and if that’s what winds up happening, that winds up happening,” he said. “We like Luke playing at left guard. We’d like to keep it that way, (but) see how he can do at left tackle and find out how that works.
“We’ll just watch. We’re actively involved with all the opportunities.”
That’s Carroll code for seeking help via a trade instead of moving Joeckel. Given the Seahawks’ depth at running back and wide receiver, the possibility is stronger this preseason for such a swap.
Meanwhile, Odhiambo will likely get the start at 5 p.m. Friday at the Clink against the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It’s a big opportunity and I’m ready to go take it,” said Odhiambo. who played only 33 snaps last season, one of which included a mishap in the playoff game in Atlanta when he dropped back to pass-protect and stepped on the foot of QB Russell Wilson in the end zone, creating a safety.
Carroll insisted that Odhiambo, a Chris Petersen recruit who played left tackle four years at Boise, was capable.
“He’s a very good athlete at the position,’’ Carroll said. “We drafted him highly with the thought that he’d be able to do this. I’ve never backed off the thought. Physically, he can do it all. Now, he’s just got to make sure he can settle in and execute and function really well. He’s got Luke sitting next to him, which will really help.
“He’s been a left tackle most of his career. So it’s not a transition for him at all. I’ve already talked to him: Just settle down and confidently go about his work and let the plays come to him. I think he’s going to have the chance to be really good.’’
If it doesn’t work out, the Seahawks could again have four linemen new to the team or position.
Justin Britt returns at center. Right guard is a competition between Mark Glowinski, who played left guard last year, and free agent newcomer Oday Aboushi. Right tackle is between second-year man Germain Ifedi and rookie Ethan Pocic.
Carroll said Pocic, mostly a center at Louisiana State, took a few snaps at left tackle during practice Monday.
Asked if Pocic could be an answer, he said, “Could be. He’s played left tackle in the past. He’s already done a little bit of everything for us. He’s only played a short time there at the left side. He’s been primarily right-side guy.”
Ifedi gave up a sack Friday and has been inconsistent, at least a part of which is due to practice time lost after he was knocked down by a punch from DE Frank Clark in a melee during a drill two weeks ago.
Speaking to the media for the first time since the episode, Ifedi said he had no lingering injury from the blow but was held out a couple of days apparently as part of the concussion protocol. He said Clark apologized and things are good between them.
“I still love him like a brother,” Ifedi said. “We’ve moved past it, and it’s been awesome ever since.
“Things got heated in camp. Everybody’s competing. Me and Frank talked it out. I know where his heart is at. He’s a great dude. I can’t judge him for that.”
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, there’s no way to talk their way out of the loss of Fant.