Absent blocking and tackling, mini-camp football for the outsider is a little like watching a dance through a keyhole in the ballroom door. Glimpses and flashes of movement lead to no reliable conclusions as to whether things are being done right.
So after the Seahawks’ spring dance ended Thursday, insiders were queried as to what’s going on. One, C Justin Britt, offered distinctive optimism about the Seahawks’ most maligned unit.
“If we stay on course, I don’t see why we can’t be one of the top offenses in the league,” he said. “We have the tools and the coaching.”
At this time on the football calendar, of course, optimism is as available as candy at Easter. But Britt’s enthusiasm seemed to generate at least partly from the change in position coach from the fired Tom Cable to his replacement, Mike Solari.
“Cable and Solari, they’re just different people,” he said. “A different view, and perspective on how he coaches — in a real good way.
“He’s done what he’s doing for a long time. He’s definitely got a different tactic for how he coaches. It’s been great. I don’t think there’s a lot of guys feeling lost. I think they’re prepared.”
As Seahawks fans know, the offensive line often has been Old Testament lost — you know, 40 years in desert, like Moses.
Pro Football Focus ranked the 2017 line 27th, a generous spot considering that Mike Davis led the running backs with 240 yards, a paltry total by far the lowest in the league. QB Russell Wilson came under pass-rush pressure 209 times, third-most in the NFL, yet thanks largely to his gifted legs, kept his internal organs in the same place from where they began the season.
The lame line production suggested to many that the Seahawks needed to spend all remaining franchise treasure on new O-linemen, be they veterans or rookies. Instead, the Seahawks went the other way, adding only one free agent (D.J. Fluker from the Giants) to replace the unsigned Luke Joeckel, and one rookie (fifth-rounder Jamarco Jones of Ohio State) for depth.
The reason: The perpetual shuffle of under-talented players made for backsliding. Here’s how Britt put it:
“If I’m playing with different guards every week and every day, it’s kind of hard to build communication other than what’s in the book,” he said. “Working with the same guys, repetition really makes the line stronger.
“To have Solari come in and be real repetitive on how he does things, and how he teaches technique, I think he’s done a really good job.”
Last season’s dyspepsia began to fade some with the arrival of the line’s best player, LT Duane Brown. But because he arrived at midseason — the the worst time for a unit that needs repetition — via trade with Houston, this is his first spring workout in Seattle.
Brown’ transition was further compromised by an ankle injury. But 2017 is behind him.
Said Brown: “I feel more a part of the group, and being able to lead more right now in the offseason – in meetings, in practices, in workouts, doing everything – it’s a great feeling.”
So at the end of mini-camp Thursday, the line appeared set. Going from the left: 11-year vet Brown, second-year Ethan Pocic (up 20 pounds to 320), fifth-year Britt, sixth-year Fluker and third-year Germain Ifedi. All were drafted in either the first or second rounds, none of them are rookies, only Fluker is a first-timer, and they’re all getting simultaneous fresh takes from Solari.
In reserve is George Fant, who if he recovers fully from knee surgery, could supplant the line’s weak link, Ifedi, the most penalized man in the NFL last season.
In Britt’s view, Solari and new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer have created a big uptick from Cable and previous OC Darrell Bevell.
“They are coming in and re-introducing us to our old attitude, and what we got away from,” he said. “It’s all we need.”
When asked what that meant, Carroll declined to be specific — “I’m not going to talk a lot about that,” he said — but acknowledged a perceived improvement.
“We’re a little different — you’ll see as we go,” he said. “Mike has his background that he has brought, and he’s a heck of salesman. He’s got them turned already into the stuff we’re doing. It’s how he speaks and his language, and technically how we’re doing it.
“We’re coming back feeling more experienced than we’ve been (on the line) with really solid leadership, and it’s competitive. As soon as George gets back, we’re going to be healthy too.”
In June after a weak year, a Seahawks line that appears mostly the same is going to be taken seriously by no one. But if by, say, week six and the Seahawks are 4-2 with a top-12 offense, Britt will be eager to call you over, poke a meaty finger in your chest and ask you to recall where you heard it first.
If they’re 2-4 and averaging 91 yards rushing a game, feel free to stick your feeble finger in his chest.