It’s obviously way too early to make a determination on the Seahawks’ 2014 draft class. If you want my prediction on some guys, I think Paul Richardson will be a quality starter if he can stay healthy. I think Kevin Norwood will be one of the all-time great Seahawks if this foot thing doesn’t linger his whole career. I think Cassius Marsh just might be the steal of the draft and a dominant force for years to come on the defensive line. I think everyone else is really up in the air at this point. If some of these other back-end guys – like KPL, Pinkins, and Staten, who are all pretty much projects at this point and won’t see a lot of time (if any) on defense this year – end up panning out, that’s gravy. When you toss in undrafted guys – like Brock Coyle, who figures to certainly make the team and replace Heath Farwell; Garry Gilliam, who has an outside shot to make the 53-man roster along the offensive line; Jackson Jeffcoat, who has elite athleticism, but is struggling to adjust to a switch from end to linebacker – this overall 2014 rookie class should be one of the good ones, as usual.
But, I think this class really hinges on second rounder Justin Britt.
There’s no doubt that the Seahawks had a need along the offensive line when they were coming into this draft. We lost two pretty prominent guys in Paul McQuistan and Breno Giacomini, two guys who started A LOT of games for us the last couple seasons. Yes, we had a few leftovers from last year who we figured could slide in at the left guard and right tackle positions if need be, but our depth would be shredded. We NEEDED to pick up a guy or two in the draft.
I know everyone says that they only draft the best players available, but it certainly helps when the best available intersects with a position of need, doesn’t it? The Seahawks went out and bolstered the receiver position – after Tate left – with Richardson. And later in that same round, they bolstered their offensive line with Britt. You could argue whether or not those two were the “best” players available, but they’re here now, so we might as well move on.
The Seahawks also picked up an offensive line project in the sixth round who was waived due to a heart defect or some damn thing. So, really, Britt was it as far as offensive line goes in this draft (not counting the undrafted guys, of course, who are always longshots to even make the practice squad).
Now, here we are, in the second week of the pre-season. Michael Bowie was waived due to a shoulder condition. There was also the issue of him coming in overweight and/or out of shape. I think we were hoping to hide him on IR and bring him back next year (waiving him was an attempt to save some money, I believe, before we put him on IR), but he was picked up by the Browns, so now he’s gone. That’s neither here nor there, because apparently he wasn’t going to play for us this year anyway.
That leaves Britt, veterans Eric Winston and Wade Smith, and maybe Alvin Bailey (but Bailey has spent the entire pre-season in the starting left tackle spot, with Okung out). As Okung returns, maybe Bailey enters the race for starting right tackle, but for now it’s Britt’s job to lose.
I haven’t seen much out of Britt with my own two eyes, but what I’ve heard doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence. He appears to be getting beat on the reg in pass protection. It’s unclear whether he’s fully understanding the zone blocking scheme. The only thing you CAN say about him is that he’s still the starter on the depth chart. It appears that the team is going to give him every opportunity to win the job, and for the life of me, I don’t blame ’em.
The Seahawks haven’t necessarily been wildly successful in drafting offensive linemen. Max Unger was chosen by the previous regime. Russell Okung was an obvious pick – a high first rounder – at a time post-Walter Jones when the left tackle position was a zoo. James Carpenter was initially selected to be a right tackle, but proved to have the body of a guard. Three injury-riddled seasons later, and we’re wondering if this first round draft pick will be re-signed after the season. J.R. Sweezy is a converted defensive lineman and a seventh round draft pick. He’s entering his third season in what has been an up-and-down career to date.
The Seahawks NEED to hit and hit big on someone like Britt. Not only that, but hit EARLY. Carpenter is in the best shape of his life … four years into his professional career. He hasn’t been a disaster up to this point, but he’s definitely been a disappointment. I don’t care what your salary cap situation looks like, you’d always much rather have the young, inexpensive players have huge impacts for you. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a home-grown player require the full life of his contract before he finally lives up to his original promise; because NOW you have to make a decision: do we want to bring him back on a more-expensive free agent deal, or let him walk?
Because think about it, what if Carpenter goes out and blows everyone away this year? He makes this huge jump as one of the better left guards in the game, he stays healthy for the full 16 games plus playoffs, and he starts getting recognition around the league as someone to watch out for. Well, he MIGHT command a huge contract at season’s end! So, either we blow through our cap space (and give an injury-risk a large amount of resources), or we let him go and another team reaps the rewards on a player WE spent four years cultivating!
And, not for nothing, but Sweezy appears to be on a similar track, though we do still have two full years of team control left before he’s up for a new deal. Maybe instead of the big jump forward I kind of expect out of Sweezy, this year sees him only marginally improve. Well, that means it’s another year with a struggling right guard before he MAYBE figures it out in 2015 (just in time to be another Carpenter situation).
So, no, we don’t want that out of Britt. We can’t afford that out of Britt! He doesn’t have to be perfect right out of the gate. Obviously, there are going to be growing pains, and we all have to accept that. But, for starters, he has to prove that he’s not completely overwhelmed at the professional level. He can’t be getting beat on every other play. He’s got to flash – on his own – that he can handle some of the better pass rushers in the league. And not require a tight end babysitter on every play just to keep our quarterback upright and our running game afloat.
Now, obviously, he still has three more pre-season games to get to that level. The level where the coaching staff (and, frankly, the fans) feel comfortable just having him out there. We all know he’s going to need to improve, and that’s the next thing: we need Britt’s learning curve to be swift. Yes, I’ll suffer some growing pains, but it better be leading to a payoff down the road. And not three years down the road, but rather the second half of this season. There’s got to be a point this year where it starts to click for him. Where the missteps of being a rookie are fewer and farther between.
From week 7 onward, we face A LOT of great front sevens: the Rams twice, the 49ers twice, the Cardinals twice, the Panthers, and the Chiefs. That’s 8 of our last 11 games where we’re going to need Britt to be on his game. Yes, Russell Wilson scrambles with the best of ’em, but if you’re a turnstile over there at right tackle, you’re not giving him time enough to even do that!
If Britt fails, it would be a huge setback. In the short term, it would mean relying on veterans off the scrap heap, or youngsters who haven’t done a thing in this league. In the long term, it would mean offensive line will once again be a huge priority going into the 2015 draft. I don’t know what that draft class will look like, as far as offensive line is concerned, but by all accounts, 2014 was one of the better offensive line classes in YEARS!
On top of right tackle – if Britt is a bust – we’ll need to address left guard, and possibly try to extend our left tackle after the 2014 season. In two years (when you factor in the loss of McQuistan and Giacomini), that’s simply too much for one football team to address at one position. Quite frankly, it would mean we’d have one of the worst offensive lines in the league pretty much for the majority of our dynasty window.
So, no, we can’t fail with Britt. He NEEDS to be good and he needs to be good very soon. If he fails to develop, and we suffer another season with an underperforming offensive line, we’ll have to ask ourselves if Tom Cable is really the O-Line wizard we’ve all come to believe.