BY Doug Farrar 10:08PM 09/06/2010

Okung highest risk among NFL holdouts

Nearly all first round picks are in; Okung not among them, and it will hurt

Despite lots of talk heading into the start of training camps about potential rookie holdouts, 29 of the league’s 32 first round picks have signed contracts with their NFL teams in the first week of August.

The three remaining — No. 2 overall pick Ndamukong Suh, No. 6 overall pick Russell Okung and No. 9 overall pick C.J. Spiller — were the three most celebrated senior players at their respective positions in college football last season. The Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills, respectively, want their first round picks in camp as soon as possible. Each are expected to be immediate impact starters for their clubs.

Suh and Spiller are the two more celebrated players and no doubt will generate more media attention. The Lions and Suh’s agents — Roosevelt Barnes and Eugene Parker — are thought to be relatively close to a deal, which could put NFLDraftScout.com’s top-rated 2010 prospect in Detroit by the end of the week.

Spiller, represented by agent Gary Wichard, however, could be in for a longer holdout. The reigning ACC Player of the Year seemed resigned to that possibility by indicating in a chat with fans at the Sporting News that he was going to ” let my agent handle all of that. We’re not going to rush. We’re going to make sure we cross our T’s and dot our I’s, however long the process takes. I just have to be patient.”

It is Okung, however, whose holdout could prove to be the story.

Like Spiller, Okung’s contract talks have appeared to hit a significant snag. ProFootballTalk.com reported yesterday that a deal between the Seahawks and Okung’s agent Peter Schaeffer is “not even close.” Seattle Times beat writer Danny O’Neil noted that Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll labeled his projected starting left tackle’s absence as a concern for him every day.

Suh and Spiller are more ready to make an immediate impact. Suh is such a dominant player that I expect him to stand out at defensive tackle as a rookie — a rare feat. Spiller, due to his charisma and the relative ease of rookie running backs enjoying success, projects as one of the league’s surest highlight reel additions from the 2010 draft.

Okung, however, is being asked to play the position second only to quarterback in terms of difficulty adjusting from the NCAA to NFL. With the notable exceptions of Joe Thomas, Ryan Clady and Jake Long, few rookie left tackles have been able to come into the NFL and play well immediately.

I attended and scouted some of Okung’s first practices as a member of the Seattle Seahawks during June OTAs. While Okung’s length and strength were obvious, it was also clear that the former All-America still had a ways to go before understanding the intricacies of Alex Gibbs’ vaunted zone-blocking scheme.

Okung is in charge of protecting the blindside of a soon-to-be 35-year-old Matt Hasselbeck. If that wasn’t enough pressure, he’s being asked to replace Walter Jones — the best player in team history.

The Seahawks certainly won’t admit it publicly, but they know they need to get Okung in the fold. With Okung out, the Seahawks have former fourth-round pick Ray Willis, a natural right tackle, starting on the left side. When Willis was given Monday’s practice off to rest, veteran guard Mansfield Wrotto, another former fourth round pick, was given the nod. Neither Willis nor Wrotto have demonstrated to this point the ability to consistently hold a starting position in the league. Both, due to marginal agility, are potential liabilities in Gibbs’ system — at any position — much less the critical left tackle spot.

In a new offense with new coaches, the Seahawks could struggle to protect Hasselbeck even with Okung starting. They’re in a potentially dire situation without him.

It doesn’t get any simpler for the Seahawks than this — the more games Hasselbeck starts for the Seahawks, the greater chance Carroll has of improving on Seattle’s 5-11 record last year. Until Okung signs, however, neither Hasselbeck remaining healthy nor the Seahawks improving in the win column seems likely.

Rob Rang is a senior contributor to NFLDraftScout.com/CBSSports.com


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