BY Art Thiel 06:46PM 08/17/2015

Thiel: After seven sacks, Seahawks churn O-line

Disappointed in the pass protection in the first exhibition game Friday, Seahawks moved Justin Britt to left guard, Alvin Bailey to backup left tackle and said Garry Gilliam would start at right tackle.

Garry Gilliam lived the O-line dream when he caught a touchdown pass in the NFC Championship game from FG holder Jon Ryan. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Coach Pete Carroll insisted that Monday’s tumult in the Seahawks’ starting offensive line was no big deal.

“It’s not like it’s a surprise,” he said after practice.

Just a guess here: Seven sacks by the Denver Broncos in the fake-season opener was a surprise.

Repairs included moving starting RT Justin Britt to left guard, where the starter, Alvin Bailey, was moved to backup left tackle. Garry Gilliam, who backed up Britt, is now the starting right tackle.

It’s all experimental, of course. But with the center position still uncertain between Lem Jeanpierre and Drew Nowak, what can be said ahead of exhibition No. 2 Friday in Kansas City is that RG J.R. Sweezy and LT Russell Okung are still in their spots.

Please check back in a minute.

“We knew there were some young guys that were going to play so we’re competing to figure it out,” said Carroll, who didn’t want anyone who smelled smoke Friday to think there was actually, you know, a fire. But answering a related question, Carroll did let slip a sense of urgency.

“We can’t wait too much longer to do this, so we need to do it now,” he said. “We’re trying to get our best five and see what’s the right combination. When you get down to nine guys or eight guys sometimes during the season, guys have to be flexible.”

But not so flexible that Broncos’ star pass rusher Von Miller can swoop around Seattle’s right side for a strip-sack of QB Russell Wilson, who fumbled at the Seattle 10-yard line to set up Denver’s first field goal in a 22-20 win.

That was on Britt, a second-round pick a year ago from Missouri who started most of his rookie season. According to Pro Football Focus, Britt allowed 41 quarterback hurries last season, third-most in the NFL. The site ranked Britt as the 74th-best offensive tackle last season.

But the evening’s desultory production — 29 yards of total offense in the first half, 181 for the game — was not all on Britt. Assistant coach Tom Cable called the pass protection “disappointing.” Even for a fake game that included Wilson for two series and RB Marshawn Lynch for none, it was weak enough to turn on the emergency flashers.

“It’s a really important week for us,” Carroll said. “We have to make strides. We have to get better. We can’t go out there and struggle early in games and take some hits that we don’t need to take. We’ve got to get off better than that.”

Of the position switches, Cable said, “It’ll get into next week before it settles down. It’s coming. I did not like the pass protection. At all.”

The uncertainty in the O-line is a consequence of making big draft choice/salary investments in other units. Not much has been left over for the O-line, where Cable is put in charge of crafting undrafted free agents into starters. Such as Gilliam.

You may remember him from the NFC Championship, where his touchdown against Green Bay someday will be enshrined in the NFL Fat Guy Hall of Fame. Lined up in the third quarter at tight end, where the 308-pounder played for three years at Penn State, Gilliam caught a 19-yard pass from holder Jon Ryan on a fake field goal attempt that cut Seattle’s deficit to 16-7.

So it is fair to say Gilliam is not an unknown, especially for an undrafted O-lineman.

“Pretty often,” he said, responding to a question about the public recognition from the play. “You go up to the fans and they recognize 79 Gilliam, so it’s pretty cool.”

Carroll is recognizing him in other ways.

“He’s a fantastic athlete for the spot,” he said. “He has great feet. He played tight end in college, for good reason. He made the transition to the line his senior year. He has the background and the athleticism for the line. He’s very light on his feet.

“He had a terrific off-season and has come back firing. We see a lot of promise, so we’ll give him a shot.”

Gilliam probably fits the Carroll prototype for a right tackle better than Britt, who doesn’t work as well in space and was seen either as guard or tackle when he was drafted. But a year ago, they had a vacancy at right tackle.

Potentially asking three young linemen with little experience at their positions to start and play at least average for a Super Bowl contender is a bit much. Even Gilliam is honest about that.

“To have full fluidity across an offensive line, you’ve got to have your guys jell,” he said.  “To know what’s going on, know the language, know how to do things . . . I think that’s what coach Cable is going through now.

“So we’ll be in that lineup for the week and feel how we work together. If he wants to switch something up, then he will. We’ve got to be able to plug in at different spots at any given time.”

As for Britt, he seems to have not been dismayed at the position switch.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’ll play center if they want.”

Given Britt’s demonstrated vulnerability in pass pro on the edge, Carroll figured it couldn’t hurt to put him inside.

“It’s a different position entirely,” he said. “You’re not playing in space so much. He’s a big dude and he understands how to come off the football. He’s got really good feet in the run game. We’ll see how it fits him. He was real comfortable with it today for the first time out.”

Because NFL rules in recent years have reduced full contact in training camp to nearly zero, the opening exhibition game is the first real test run since the last game of the previous season. Since the Seahawks couldn’t afford a decent veteran free agent lineman,  the coaches opted to go with kids. Friday they glimpsed the consequences.

To their credit, they did not dither. Much is to be done.

Said Carroll: “It’s going to take the whole camp, for sure.”

Maybe more than that.


Carroll described backup QB Tarvaris Jackson’s injury as a high ankle sprain, usually the most serious kind, but he still said he’s hoping for a two-week healing. The Seahawks worked out a QB Sunday, and have temporarily designated B.J. Daniels, who has been competing at wide receiver in camp, as the third quarterback if needed. Daniels has looked good catching passes, but has been in the system for two seasons as a backup QB . . . WR Chris Matthews has a slight shoulder strain, and CB Mohammed Seisay a strained groin . . . The secondary is sufficiently needy that Jeremy Crayton, who was in Seattle’s May mini-camp, was signed as a cornerback in the morning and was on the second team during practice. He’s a 6-foot, 190-pound undrafted rookie from Southern Arkansas . . . The Seahawks also added another CB, Keelan Johnson, an undrafted free agent from Arizona State in 2013 who has been with three teams. Released were LB Dakorey Johnson and DT Jimmy Staten . . . Dion Bailey drew praise as starting strong safety Friday, and he may be there a while as no progress was cited in the stalemate with Kam Chancellor over a contract extension. Former first-stringer DeShawn Shead was back with the second team. Undrafted rookie Ronald Martin from Louisiana State was the first-team free safety until All-Pro Earl Thomas returns. Carroll said a plan was afoot to get him back in practice action. He is expected to be ready for the regular season opener Sept. 13 in St. Louis.



  • jafabian

    One exhibition game does not tell the tale of the Offensive Line. And last season the team itself didn’t begin to play up to their usual standards until after Game 6. Losing a talent like Max Unger will have a big impact on the team but he barely played half a season last year. However the benchmark of the Seahawks has been to struggle in pass protection but to excel when they need to clear the paths for the rushing game. Glad to see Britt willing to do what the team asks for him and not say if he has to play more than one position he should get paid more.

    • art thiel

      If they get back to the SB with this line, Tom Cable should asst coach of the year.

  • PokeyPuffy

    Our ineptness on O is cause for concern, and made for very dull television watching on Friday. I fell asleep.
    It would be interesting to compare our o line unit salaries with the rest of the league. Probably in the bottom 3rd.

    • art thiel

      That’s a fair guess. Gotta pay the stars, none of whom are on the O-line.

  • Jamo57

    The success the Hawks have had the past three seasons is remarkable given the fact the O-Line has never been among their strongest position groups. In fact that fateful play at the end of the Super Bowl last year could be seen as a conspiracy of circumstance around two of the weaker position groups at that time, O-Line and WR.

    Perhaps Wilson’s mobility and knack for creating something out of nothing is his greatest value in this system. In any event, this year the WRs look more competitive but the DBs look vulnerable. It’ll be fascinating to see what the brain trust comes up with.

    • art thiel

      O-line needed only to be NFL average or even slightly below because Lynch and Wilson make individual difference-making plays rare for their positions.

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