Seattle Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung offered this glowing assessment of James Carpenter.
“James, he’s an animal,” Okung said. “When he’s healthy, he’s hard to beat. I don’t think there’s a guy who can line up over him and really say they can beat him, when he’s healthy.”
Carpenter’s ability to bounce back from offseason knee surgery and solidify the left guard spot, along with a spirited competition at right guard between John Moffitt and J.R. Sweezy, are areas of concern for an already solid Seahawks offensive line.
The Seahawks have yet to go a full season with the same starting five on the offensive line since 2007, when names such as Walter Jones and Robbie Tobeck still graced the roster.
But under the guidance of offensive line guru Tom Cable, the Seahawks are moving closer to that goal.
The Seahawks finished with five different starting offensive line combinations in 2012 after using six different starting combinations in 2011.
Establishing consistency and chemistry is a key part of the success of Cable’s zone blocking scheme. Okung and center Max Unger earned Pro Bowl invitations last season, the first time a Seattle offensive lineman has been voted to the annual all-star game since Jones in 2008.
Seattle led the league in rushing attempts last season, with Marshawn Lynch rumbling for a career-high 1,590 rushing yards. Coach Pete Carroll maintains that his team will continue to lean on a run-first approach.
The key for continued success up front is to limit the moving parts and do a better job of protecting quarterback Russell Wilson. Seattle allowed 33 sacks in 2012, tied for 20th in the NFL.
BIG PLANS FOR CARPENTER
It’s easy to see why the Seahawks selected Carpenter with the No. 25 overall pick in the first round of the 2011 draft. A mountain of a man at 6-foot-5 and 350 pounds, Carpenter is one of the strongest players on Seattle’s roster and has played guard and tackle.
The issue is health.
In his rookie season, the University of Alabama product tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during pass rush-blocking drills after starting nine games – one at left guard and eight at right tackle.
Carpenter’s recovery from surgery went well enough that the team did not place him on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list for the 2012 season. Carpenter started seven games at left guard last year, but re-injured that same knee during the opening series Dec. 2 at Chicago. He was placed on the reserve/non-football list two days later.
Carpenter, 24, had arthroscopic surgery on his surgically repaired knee during the offseason, and did not participate in any on-field drills during the team’s offseason practices.
If healthy, Carpenter is slated to start at left guard next to Okung, replacing Paul McQuistan. That pairing gives Seattle a dominating combo similar to the days of Jones and guard Steve Hutchinson.
“James has a tremendous upside for us and I’m anxious for you guys to see what he’s capable of doing,” Carroll said. “We expect that he’ll make it back for camp so we’ll see what happens. He can give us a special dimension if we can get him back. He should be healthy, and it’s just a matter of us getting him in shape and we’ll be very careful to make sure we don’t rush him along.”
AT RIGHT GUARD, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE COMPETITION
Moffitt, a third-year pro, and converted defensive lineman Sweezy split practice repetitions at right guard with the first unit during Seattle’s offseason program while the two battle for the starting job.
A seventh-round selection last season who had not played offensive line since youth football, Sweezy was a surprise starter at right guard for the season opener at Arizona.
Sweezy, 24, had a rough game against the Cardinals, but rebounded to start the final two games of the regular season and Seattle’s two playoff games.
At 6-5 and 298 pounds, Sweezy is Seattle’s most athletic lineman, running the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds at the NFL scouting combine in 2012. Along with his physical attributes, Cable likes the North Carolina State product’s motor and feisty attitude.
Moffitt, a third-round selection out of Wisconsin in 2011, is considered a technician who can play all three interior line spots. He missed the last seven games of his rookie season with a right knee injury that required surgery.
He has slimmed down this spring, appearing quicker during the team’s offseason program. At 6-4 and 319 pounds, Moffitt, 26, started 15 games his first two years with Seattle.
WILL MCQUISTAN BE AROUND THIS SEASON?
McQuistan, a 30 year-old, eight-year veteran, is set to earn $3 million in base salary in the final year of a two-year contract. If Carpenter supplants McQuistan at left guard, that’s a hefty salary for Seattle to pay a backup offensive lineman.
There are two factors working for McQuistan, who could also be in the competition at right guard.
He is Seattle’s most versatile lineman, with the ability to play left tackle, left guard, right guard and right tackle. He has started 26 games in two seasons with the Seahawks.
Plus, he has a history with Cable dating back to the pair’s days in Oakland.
It’s also possible he could be asked to restructure his contract in order to stick around as a backup.Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @eric_d_williams