Football coaches admit mistakes about as often as they let fans call their plays. Especially on personnel decisions. Especially, especially in the middle of a season.
That’s why it was startling to hear the admissions this week by both Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and offensive line coach Tom Cable that they erred by not starting Patrick Lewis at center earlier this season.
Asked if there is any part of him that regrets not starting Lewis, who started four games for Seattle late last season, instead of unproven, former college defensive tackle Drew Nowak from the opening game that Seattle lost, Carroll paused.
“Now that I see how he’s doing,” Carroll said before Lewis makes his fourth start on the recently improving line Sunday for the Seahawks (5-5) against the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4).
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“We really set our sights on trying to get Drew going. We thought that there was going to be a quick upsurge in his play. And it was hard for him in making the transition and all that. So as I look back now, I would’ve liked to have given Patrick a chance earlier so that we would’ve compared it.
“But we still would’ve wanted to see how Drew would develop. His learning curve is just going to take a little bit longer. It just didn’t happen as fast as we needed it to.
“Just the experience of Patrick playing really helped us. So I’ll say yes to that.”
Then Carroll added with a wry smile: “Guys don’t do that very often, do they?”
No, coaches don’t. But a couple hours later, after practice, Cable said the same thing.
“Yeah, hindsight is easy to say now,” Cable said. “With Drew it was a developmental stage, kind of what we went through with Pat last year. We were in the same boat.
“I guess the answer to that is, yeah. But it’s easy to say that now.”
That’s because Lewis’ recognition of defensive fronts and stunts and deft communication to his other four linemen immediately before he snap has settled Seattle’s offense.
Quarterback Russell Wilson got sacked an NFL-high 31 times in his first seven games, four of which the Seahawks lost. He’s only been sacked four times in his last three games.
Last week, Lewis made mostly right-on calls in the run game, too. Thomas Rawls cut off the blocks Lewis called in Cable’s zone-blocking scheme for 209 yards rushing to break Curt Warner’s Seahawks rookie record set in 1983. Seattle’s offense rolled past 500 total yards for just the third time under Carroll, and the Seahawks pulled to within a game of the NFC’s final playoff spot.
The feeling is Cable’s risky 2015 offensive line experiment is finally working. It includes former college tight end Garry Gilliam at right tackle, second-year lineman Justin Britt moving from right tackle to left guard, college defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy at right guard, and now the reclaimed Lewis anchoring at center.
“We are kind of inching our way there as we go,” Cable said.
Sunday, Lewis and friends face a Steelers defense that blitzes from everywhere, with perhaps more variations than Arizona’s defense Seattle faced two weeks ago. Lewis will be at the center, literally, of the Seahawks’ chances to improve to 6-5 before heading to 7-3 Minnesota next week.
“As a unit, we have to be together. We all have to communicate,” Lewis said. “And together, we can get it done.”
It’s been a wild NFL ride for the Louisiana native and former guard. He became a center before his junior season at Texas A&M. In 2013, Green Bay signed him as an undrafted free agent before waiving him at the end of that year’s training camp. Cleveland had him for a couple months, then put him on its practice squad in late November 2013. Jacksonville signed him to its active roster for the final weeks of that season, but he never appeared in a game for the Jaguars, either.
Jacksonville waived him on Aug. 25, 2014. Seattle claimed him the next day. He had one practice with the Seahawks before appearing in their exhibition finale last season. The Seahawks cut him two days after that game at Oakland, then Cleveland signed him back to its practice squad. After Seattle waived injured Lemuel Jeanpierre last year and Max Unger kept getting hurt, the Seahawks signed Lewis again, this time off the Browns’ practice squad, on Oct. 8, 2014. He started the first four games of his career, for Unger, including the wins over Arizona late in the season that rallied Seattle to another NFC West title.
That’s 10 signings and cuts over his first 18 months of his career, without ever appearing in a game, before Lewis settled with Seattle.
“I often think about it, because it actually keeps me going,” Lewis said. “It motivates me to keep pushing forward. Obstacles happen in life. You’ve just got to keep climbing to get over them.”
FIRST PRACTICE, THEN THANKSGIVING
The Seahawks practiced early Thursday afternoon then took off for what Carroll joked would be “about 20, 30 minutes” to spend with family for Thanksgiving.
All-Pro CB Richard Sherman said it was a big holiday in his household in suburban Maple Valley, with 9-month-old son Rayden having his first two teeth.
“So we’re going to let him feel a little turkey in him,” Sherman said. “I don’t think it’s right to not give him turkey. I don’t think he’s going to let us put it on our plate without giving him a little bit.”
The Seahawks played last Thanksgiving, winning at San Francisco. Sherman and Wilson infamously (especially in the Bay Area) chowed on a full turkey in the middle of the 49ers’ home field in a stunt cooked up by NBC television, which broadcast the game.
Of being home for this holiday, Sherman said: “Awesome. That’s obviously one of the things you’re thankful for, and you look back and think about what’s changed since the last Thanksgiving. You’re really appreciative of what you have.”
EXTRA POINTS: LB Bruce Irvin (sprained knee ligament) and WR Paul Richardson (strained hamstring) are more likely to miss their second consecutive games after missing practice again Thursday. … WR Doug Baldwin (sprained ankle), Gilliam (sprained ankle) and Sweezy (sore left shoulder) were back to full participation after missing Wednesday.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle