Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks attempt to tackle ‘really bad’ position at combine

gregg.bell@thenewstribune.com

The Seahawks drafted Germain Ifedi in 2016 but moved the college offensive tackle to guard for the NFL season.
The Seahawks drafted Germain Ifedi in 2016 but moved the college offensive tackle to guard for the NFL season. AP Images for Panini

You know it.

Russell Wilson knows it. He still feels it.

Pete Carroll has acknowledged it is indeed “an area of focus.”

The Seahawks need to improve their offensive line this offseason. That is, if they intend to advance past the divisional round of the playoffs and beyond merely winning the NFC West for the fourth time in five years this coming season.

Specifically, they need to improve at offensive tackle. That’s where the Seahawks started an undrafted rookie on the left side (George Fant) and a former undrafted college tight end on the right (Garry Gilliam) in 2016.

The thing is, there is a big “but” affecting Seattle’s plans at this week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

“This is a really bad offensive-tackle class,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Monday.

And not just in the draft.

The free-agent market for left tackles is also so weak there is a likelihood Seattle takes a long look at bringing back Russell Okung. The former Seahawks left tackle became a free agent on Friday after Denver decided to not exercise the option on what ultimately was a one-year contract that Okung self-negotiated and signed last March.

Two days after this past season ended with January’s playoff loss at Atlanta, Carroll outlined what the Seahawks will be looking at during the combine that runs Wednesday through Monday. That was after three-time All-Pro safety Earl Thomas broke his tibia, then starting cornerback DeShawn Shead tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during that divisional-round loss to the Falcons.

“We’ve got to get Earl back, get the corner thing squared away…we will certainly be looking at that in the draft,” Carroll said.

“We need some youth at the linebacker spot now. Bobby (Wagner) and K.J. (Wright) played thousands of plays this year between the two of them and were extremely successful (both made the Pro Bowl). But we need to address that. We didn’t get anybody that really made a difference in the last couple of years to really fight to take those guys’ jobs. … That’s what we need to draft towards. So we will be looking there.”

Then Carroll finished with the obvious.

“The offensive line will continue to be an area of focus,” the coach said. “It will be.”

It must be.

Barring a trade, Seattle’s seven choices in April’s draft are the fewest selections they’ve had in the Carroll-Schneider regime. They drafted eight players in 2015 and 10 last year.

But five of their seven picks this spring are among the first 106 selections. Seattle has picks 26, 58, 90, 102 and 106, plus 210 and 226 overall. Last week the league awarded the Seahawks two choices at the end of round three as compensation for losing Okung, starting linebacker Bruce Irvin and others in free agency last offseason.

Whom might the Seahawks be looking at most closely this week in Indiana?

Alabama tackle Cam Robinson is considered ready to start in the NFL. Most think he will become the sixth Crimson Tide offensive lineman drafted in the first round since 2008. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound 2016 Outland Trophy winner as college football’s best interior lineman is considered to have elite athleticism — a trait Seahawks veteran line coach Tom Cable values most for his zone-blocking schemes.

Yet Robinson could fall to Seattle at the 26th pick. He was arrested in his hometown of Monroe, Louisiana, last May for being inside a parked car in a closed public park at 2 a.m. possessing marijuana and a stolen gun. The district attorney there decided not to pursue felony charges, telling local television station KNOE there was insufficient evidence plus he didn’t want to “ruin the lives” of Robinson and his Alabama teammate, Hootie Jones, who was also in the car.

Those are the type of issues Carroll and general manager John Schneider have shown they are willing to take on, rather than shun, since they arrived to run the Seahawks in 2010.

Their first pick in the 2015 draft was Seattle starting defensive end Frank Clark, who was kicked out of the University of Michigan’s program during his senior season following an arrest in a domestic-violence incident at an Ohio hotel.

In April 2013, former LSU defensive back Tharold Simon’s draft status was in question after he was arrested in his hometown of Eunice, Louisiana, on charges of public intimidation, resisting arrest and unnecessary noise. Two days later, the Seahawks drafted Simon in the fifth round.

Another top tackle the Seahawks are likely scrutinizing is the 6-6, 315-pound Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin. He played only one season for the Badgers, an All-American-caliber one at left tackle. That was after two years at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He had hip surgery on Jan. 5 and isn’t expected to participate in the on-field drills at the combine.

The Seahawks’ first pick in the 2014 draft was Paul Richardson. That was eight months after the Colorado wide receiver’s return to playing following reconstructive knee surgery.

The dearth of quality offensive tackles in this draft means teams are more likely to reach and “overdraft” Robinson and Ramczyk, take them higher than they would likely go in a year with a normal number of top prospects at the line’s most prized position. So those two may not be around for Seattle late in round one.

Instead, the Seahawks could follow their recent trend of drafting their linemen prospects in bulk -- or not at all – out of obscurity.

Carroll and Schneider have in seven years drafted 17 players that didn’t get invited to the combine. There’s been one such Seattle selection every draft under this regime, and multiple non-combine players taken in each of the team’s last six drafts. And 40 percent of the Seahawks’ starting offensive line at the end of the 2016 went undrafted.

Since they arrived to run the Seahawks in 2010 Carroll and Schneider have traded four times as many first-round picks as they have used one for an offensive tackle. You have to go back to their first draft for Seattle, to Okung, to find the only first-round pick they have taken to play on the edge of their interior line.

They drafted James Carpenter from Alabama in the first round in 2011 and Germain Ifedi from Texas A&M first last year, then turned both those college tackles into NFL guards.

The Seahawks appear set at the three interior spots of that maligned offensive line, the one that got Wilson a high-ankle sprain in last season’s opener and a badly sprained knee ligament by the third game. Carroll has said the team intends to keep Ifedi at right guard “in the spirit of continuity.” Coaches liked the steadiness of Mark Glowinski, a fourth-round pick in 2015, at left guard last season in his first extended time as a starter. Justin Britt (second round, 2014) was something of a revelation for how much better he was at center than he’d been in his first two seasons as the starting right tackle then left guard.

But, man, those tackles. Seattle played five guys at those two spots last season.

“I think priority number one has got to be to help Russell Wilson take less hits,” Mayock said.

Then he reiterated: “It's not a good tackle class, however.”

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