Sports

Carroll says of Germain Ifedi: ‘This is the best he’s played.’ Now comes his biggest test

Germain Ifedi laughs about them now.

But back when Ifedi was at Texas A&M and Myles Garrett was a hotshot freshman defensive end lined up across from him with the Aggies, Ifedi wasn’t laughing.

He was scrapping.

“We had some battles,” Ifedi said Wednesday, with a hint of understatement.

This is from Bleacher Report in a story on Garrett in May:

“During practices one fall at Texas A&M, 6’5”, 325-pound offensive tackle Germain Ifedi grew frustrated after repeatedly being shown up by Garrett. On one play, Garrett long-armed the blocker, and his arm slid up to his throat. Ifedi, who now is with the Seahawks threw a punch. Garrett avoided it. Then Ifedi charged Garrett.

“Instead of fighting back, Garrett extended his arm, grabbed Ifedi’s facemask and held him at bay. Ifedi kept swinging but couldn’t connect.”

Punches? Wednesday, Ifedi didn’t elaborate on those “battles” at Texas A&M with Garrett.

“You like to face guys like him, young guys who are special and have a special type of talent and ability,” Ifedi said. “It’s always a challenge to see where you are at, and see how far your work has come.”

Did he have to put the kid in his place some in those A&M practices a few years ago?

“Nah,” he said. “He’s always, you know, a mild-mannered guy. He always did his work, and went about his work really professional. He came in and was mature beyond his years. That was really dope.

“But, nah, we had some battles. It was always fun—especially in college, you know, because you play ball all year-round, full pads. You had have battles throughout the year.

“It was cool. Real cool. Real fun. Real cool that’s it’s come full circle.”

Yes, it has. Sunday in Cleveland, Ifedi continues this season of proving in the final year of his rookie contract the Seahawks chose not to add to. He will again will be opposite Garrett, but this time as foes. Ifedi will be Seattle’s right tackle trying to slow down the Browns’ premier edge rusher and NFL’s second-leading sack man as the Seahawks (4-1) play at Cleveland (2-3).

Garrett is off to the best start of his three-year career. His seven sacks through five games equals his total from his rookie season of 2017. He had a three-sack game against the New York Jets last month.

Garrett has 20 1/2 sacks in his last 21 games.

He’s a physical freak: 6-4 and 272 pounds, with a 41-inch vertical leap. That jump would have been the fourth-highest at the NBA’s rookie scouting combine this year. The three higher basketball jumpers were all guards, not 272-pound football linemen.

This is what Garrett is this week for Ifedi and the Seahawks: a problem.

“He’s about as much as you can get,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a terrific athlete. He’s got great speed and burst and flexibility to bend and get off the ball and then get around the corner. He’s off to a great start. He has seven sacks and he could have had 10 at this point. Maybe more.

“He’s real legit.”

So, Carroll says, is Ifedi.

“This is the best he’s played,” Carroll said.

Seattle’s right tackle was a right guard his failed rookie season with the Seahawks in 2016 before going back to his college position in 2017 and since. He led the NFL in penalties with 20 in 2017; 17 of those were for holding defenders or false starts trying to be quicker before the snap to get to them.

In the spring of 2018 his team drafted Ohio State offensive tackle Jamarco Jones in the fifth round. By the first days of August last year, with Ifedi still committing penalties in practices, Jones briefly took Ifedi’s job as the first-team right tackle in training camp.

Days later, in a preseason game, Jones got a high-ankle sprain. It required surgery and put him on injured reserve for his entire rookie season. Ifedi went back in as the starting right tackle in 2018.

He continued to have some problems with flags (11) and edge rushers (many more than that) zooming around him to Russell Wilson last season. But he improved in new line coach Mike Solari’s more straight, man-on-man blocking system after two years in Tom Cable’s more nuanced, zone schemes.

This season Ifedi still has been penalized, five times in five games (four for holding, one for a false start). But those fouls came in games one through three. Ifedi hasn’t been flagged in the last two games, wins at Arizona and over the Los Angeles Rams. Those best performances of an uneven September into October have Seattle off to its best start since its Super Bowl-championship season of 2013.

Even if Ifedi loses some of his fights on the edge with pass rushers, Wilson has his uncanny knack for escaping sacks and making yards and points out of trouble. As long as Ifedi isn’t holding defenders or jumping the snap count illegally too early to get outside to them, the Seahawks won’t be in the first and 20s and first and 15s that plagued the offense for much of September.

“He’s played the most consistent football. Clearly,” Carroll said. “He’s doing a good job. He’s played tough and he’s been really steady and all that. There are always things that we’re working on with all of our guys. He’s got his things.

“He’s doing a good job.”

Carroll said Ifedi has been more consistent “in pass sets, in particular.” That means Ifedi getting into position quickly enough to set his feet and square his shoulders to the pass rusher he is required to repel. That means less reaching—and less holding.

“His pass sets have been an issue for us over time,” Carroll said. “We’re trying to get him to settle into a couple technical things that we work on that have been a little hard for him to adjust and change to over time.

“He’s the best he’s been. He’s getting better.”

Solari wasn’t nearly as effusive in his praise for Ifedi’s improvement. That could be because few men alive are as relentlessly positive than Carroll.

It could also be because Solari’s the position coach who must continue to hammer home fundamentals in his tackle every work day, to keep him on his improvement track.

“He’s coming,” Solari said. “He’s improving in his technique. We still have a ways to go.”

“But it’s important to Germain. He’s working really hard.”

No wonder. Ifedi is working for his next paychecks.

In early May the Seahawks decided by a league deadline not to exercise their fifth-year contract option on Ifedi for 2020. First-round picks have four-year rookie contracts that automatically include team options for a fifth season at a cost set per position by the NFL, according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

The cost for fifth-year options on NFL offensive linemen for next year is $10.35 million. That’s a few more million than Ifedi’s play has warranted through three years. It’s almost $9 million more than his $1.58 million base salary for this season.

This is the final year of the four-year rookie contract Ifedi signed in 2016 worth $8.3 million as Seattle’s 31st-overall draft choice that year.

The Seahawks could still bring back Ifedi for 2020, on a new contract. But now that would be at their cost, not the $10.35 million the fifth-year option would have mandated.

Ifedi said Wednesday, as he did this spring, he wasn’t totally broken up about the team’s decision. It sets him up to find his worth on the free-agent market in March.

He says he and fellow first-round picks from his NFL draft class “would welcome not having an extra year” with the built-in option, but rather just the four-year contracts guys drafted in other rounds get. That would afford first-round picks opportunities to get a richer, second deals sooner.

“I was kind of indifferent about it,” Ifedi said of the Seahawks not picking up his option for 2020. “It was just a formality in the contract, so a thing that they can pick up. I can’t feel one way or the other about it. I think both sides still have plenty of flexibility to do whatever they want to do going forward, so it didn’t mean anything. It doesn’t show anything.

“It’s just part of business. Another transaction that had to be made by a certain date.”

Ifedi has this season to prove he’s worthy of that opportunity to return to Seattle, or for free-agency riches elsewhere.

Sunday in Cleveland, against his old Texas A&M “battle” buddy Garrett, will be his biggest proving point yet.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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