RENTON — Quarterback Russell Wilson thought it was one of the great unexamined stories of the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning season.
How amazing it was, he said recently, that the offensive line lost its three best players for a combined 18 starts, and yet the Seahawks still won 13 regular-season games to capture the NFC West title.
Young players filled in, the others did the best they could, and the rest was a matter of Wilson staying extremely light on his feet to avoid rabid pass rushers.
During the seven games when manpower up front was its most concerning, the Hawks lost only once (on the road to Indianapolis).
Still, Wilson was sacked 44 times during the regular season, being taken down more times per pass attempt than any quarterback in the NFL. As Wilson stands as the team’s most valuable commodity, everybody knows that must change this season.
“If we can have the same five guys start all 16 games, those numbers will drop,” said center Max Unger, the linchpin of the offensive line. “We’re shooting for that. Injuries were a part of it, but we’re not blaming that by any means. It’s just something you deal with.”
Unger was a first-team All-Pro in 2012, but he missed three starts last season because of an arm injury and a concussion.
While the O-line failed to enjoy the maximum Unger, it also lost Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung for eight starts (foot) and right tackle Breno Giacomini (knee) for seven.
So, when Wilson approached the line of scrimmage game after game, he saw the likes of J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn and Robert Mathis drooling at the prospect of flattening him.
Why wouldn’t they? Defenders saw a line comprising undrafted Lemuel Jeanpierre at center, seventh-round rookie Michael Bowie at right tackle and J.R. Sweezy at right guard (a seventh-round converted defensive lineman). Manning the left side were two players who hadn’t solidified themselves as starters at left guard — James Carpenter and Paul McQuistan.
Without continuity up front, it often was not pretty. But the fill-ins were effective enough. And now, as the Seahawks wrap up the organized team activities phase of the offseason and head into next week’s minicamp, Unger once again is expected to anchor a young group.
Okung is out until training camp because of surgery on his left foot, and Giacomini left via free agency.
But last season’s injuries helped the depth-chart guys gather experience, so Bowie starting at right tackle is not so scary, nor is the sight of second-year free agent Alvin Bailey at left tackle.
And in one of the biggest stories of the offseason, Carpenter has looked fit and impressive at left guard.
“Carp looks good,” Unger said after practice Thursday. “He’s been playing very well. He came in in awesome shape, and he’s been here working very, very hard. We’re expecting quite a bit out of him this year.”
Unger, starting his sixth season, is one of only three players (Brandon Mebane and Jon Ryan) who predate the arrival of coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.
But he claims to be totally healthy, and his effort on the field is what it has been since he arrived out of the University of Oregon — at a level that makes him a valuable team leader. He still leads his unit between drills, hustles to help with blocking bags and otherwise keeps the guys alert and engaged.
“As you get older, you really have to maintain your play,” he said. “But doing stuff like that helps keep you sharp, and it’s being consistent. You keep doing things you’ve done to get here … why change?”
Exactly. That offensive line went through more changes last season than any team needs.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @DaveBoling