RENTON - With all the experience a rookie tackle can gain from 26 snaps in the NFL, Seattle's Russell Okung will be asked on Sunday to block relentless Chicago end Julius Peppers, one of the best in the world at rushing the passer.
Typically, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll views this as an opportunity for Okung. Actually, he takes it a step further, out into the realm of “classic” opportunity.
Okung suffered a high-ankle sprain early in the second exhibition game of the summer and was sidelined until the Seahawks’ game at St. Louis on Oct. 3. He eased back into it by playing in the first half against the Rams.
And now, he faces the 6-foot-7, 285-pound Peppers, a five-time Pro Bowl player who joined the Bears because they handed him a $91.5 million, six-year contract.
“This is a classic opportunity for a young guy trying to break in and get started in his career going against one of the best guys in the world,” Carroll said of Okung’s matchup with Peppers.
The Seahawks could have rested Okung during the St. Louis game, which would have given him two more weeks to rehab through the bye week. But Carroll said the Seahawks intentionally wanted Okung to at least get on the field against the Rams so that Peppers would not be his first exposure to regular-season NFL competition.
Peppers has broad freedom to relocate along the line wherever he sees a beneficial matchup, so he may not go against Okung all day. But, as Carroll said, knowing where Peppers is doesn’t always help. Keeping him blocked is another matter.
Okung was drafted for games like this, although this is a tough “opportunity” for any rookie. The sixth player taken in the draft, he’s a cornerstone player for this franchise and represents a giant commitment to rebuilding an offensive line that has been a jumble of injuries and disappointment in recent seasons.
Carroll assessed Okung at about “90 percent” healthy, and said that “his development is excellent for the time he’s been with us.”
“He’s such a gifted athlete at (tackle),” Carroll said. “His range of movement and quickness and the length that he has, and the wing span that he has – he looks like a special player to us and that’s why we drafted him where we did.”
Carroll said that Okung put his rehab time to good use, and he has learned the offense and benefited from his studies.
Okung politely dodged an interview request, in keeping with the offensive line’s media embargo. It’s a remnant of coach Alex Gibbs’ policy, which has been policed by veteran guard Ben Hamilton since Gibbs quit before the season.
I respected their approach and hadn’t talked to any of them until Wednesday, when Okung stood out as the most relevant story of the week for the Seahawks. Readers don’t care about media relations, so I divert here only to explain why a column on Russell Okung has no quotes from Russell Okung.
We’ll find other stories, but by shutting us off, I think the line is really choking the conduit to the fans, to the people who buy the tickets that pay their salaries. I think those people would be interested in hearing about the top draft pick and his preparations for this imposing challenge/opportunity.
The other thing is that it’s a violation of the NFL media access policy, which states in part: “It is the club’s responsibility to deliver access to all players (during appropriate periods) and it is the player’s responsibility to cooperate. It is not permissible for any group of players to boycott the media.”
Okung is a very personable and articulate guy, as he showed in dozens of interviews during draft week. He’s fully capable and mature enough to handle himself without Big Brother watching over his shoulder and muzzling him.
I think fans would be interested in what he has to say about Peppers, and about his recovery from the ankle injury. Mostly, fans care if he can do his job on the field.
But I know that if he can somehow get out there on Sunday and acquit himself well against Peppers, fans would love to be able to read his comments afterward.
They just won’t have that opportunity.