If you’re a major league baseball player, it’s like Mike Trout being traded to your team. If you’re an NBA player, it’s like LeBron James taking his talents to your side. That’s how RT Germain Ifedi feels about the Seahawks’ acquisition of LT Duane Brown.
Especially since Ifedi grew up in inner-city Houston, where the Texans took Brown with a first-round pick (26th overall) in 2008.
“I’ve looked up to Duane since his rookie year,” Ifedi said Friday afternoon after practice. “I stick to his side and follow him around wherever he goes. To have that type of person in my football life and my personal life . . . I can’t lie to you. It’s the greatest move (the Seahawks) have ever made — for my benefit — since I’ve been here.”
Whether having his role model at hand makes Ifedi, 24, a better player in 2018 remains to be seen. Brown was around for half a season in 2017, and no uptick was measurable. In fact, Ifedi’s lack of productivity played a part in the firing of his position coach, Tom Cable, who urged his drafting in the first round in 2016 (31st overall).
The Seahawks hope new O-line coach Mike Solari, with his emphasis on the power-run game, will get more from Ifedi, who was lost at times blocking in space in Cable’s preferred zone scheme. But to Ifedi’s way of thinking, a coach is more or less a coach, and a scheme a scheme.
“With every coach, you’re going to get a different flavor,” Ifedi said. “Mike and Tom are both really good in their own way. We’re fitting together with Mike.
“With line play, guys fit in to whatever we have to do. Being a better man blocker than zone blocker might be a thought, but you do what you’re coached to do.”
In Ifedi’s first two seasons in Seattle, Cable didn’t have much success in coaching Ifedi, either at right guard his rookie year or right tackle last season.
In fact, last season Ifedi became nationally notorious: The NFL’s most penalized player with 20 fouls, five more than the next-worst football felon. The total included nine false starts, which is largely a failure to know the snap count. It’s like a banker not knowing how to open a safe. He’s more useful if he grabs a mop.
In December, Cable was blunt about his perception of Ifedi’s problem.
“I think it’s about maturity, I really do,” he said. “We’ve talked about it, we addressed it again today. Really, this is about protecting your team. That’s in all phases; you have to have a conscience about you about doing the right thing, and that’s really where it ends.”
To Ifedi’s credit, he didn’t dispute Cable’s assessment.
“Yeah,” he said. “People like to talk about the penalties. I take it. It is what it is. You gotta grow out of it.
“As the year went along, it got better, but still added up. It’s a maturity thing. You can’t cost the team, no matter what. If you get called, it don’t matter if it’s (the defender’s) fault, it’s on you. It’s up to you to make that not happen. That’s part of growing up.”
Another critic, former teammate Cliff Avril, said he thought Ifedi’s issue was a sense of entitlement. In his new gig as an air talent for 950 KJR radio, Avril said Thursday, “Most players nowadays, they have this attitude of feeling like everything should be given to ’em. That’s what his approach has been the past few years, and I think that’s why he hasn’t taken that next step.”
A more humble-sounding Ifedi said he went over the video of his penalties and had a ready recall of each, but no theme emerged, except that he was accountable.
“It was all over the damn place,” he said, smiling. “I looked at ’em all, believe me. That’s how I know off the top of my head.
“Everything around you is not going to go right all the time. You have to be able to do your thing, no matter what happens. You can’t be the one. If it does happen, keep it to a bare minimum. You want to be at the bottom of the league, not the top of the league.”
Entering his second season on the right side, Ifedi no longer has the excuse of learning a new position, and in his third pro season, has lost the excuse of youth. Coach Pete Carroll was blunt about the need for improvement.
“We need his game to be cleaned up,” he said. “We can’t let him be a liability because of penalties; you can’t be more obvious. He knows that.e doesn’t want that to be a part of his game at all. That, I think, will come as he grows more confident,and he’s more at peace with what’s asked of him.
“He’ll be able to focus in a way that allows him to play with the cadence, and with the line of scrimmage. That’s a big point of emphasis.”
Even Ifedi knows it isn’t that hard.
“Honing in on the details,” he said. “It sounds cliche. It sounds simple. Lock in on your assignment: I know the defender, I know the play call, I know the the snap count. Ninety eight percent of the time, you’re not going to get a penalty.
“It’s just day-in, day-out practice. You gotta get off on the count. It’s easy, once you get the muscle memory of it.”
He also has drawn a few personal fouls for over-reacting. That may be where Brown’s influence is felt.
“He’s steady, he doesn’t panic, he’s a warrior,” Ifedi said. “He knows it all, sees it all. At 33, he’s had his downs, his highs. You admire him. He embraces leading us. You can’t ask for anything more.
“I think it’s time for me to take a step. I’m not going to shy away. I want to become one of those guys they talk about like they talk about Duane.”
If Ifedi advances even in the general direction of Brown’s career arc, much of the Seahawks’ tepid O-line woes near resolution.