Tom Cable not only has essentially settled on his starting five offensive linemen for the beginning of the regular season Sept. 13 at St. Louis – all that’s left is the announcement. He says this group, 3/5ths of it new guys in new spots, could be the best lineup he’s had in five years as the Seahawks’ offensive line coach.
“I think we’re kind of settled in as far as where we’re going. I think we still need to get a feel for health and where the depth lies and how it all fits together. I feel like if we were playing tomorrow, that group would go out and play,” Cable said Tuesday, entering Thursday’s preseason finale against Oakland.
That’s incumbent Russell Okung in the last year of his contract at left tackle, 2014 rookie starting right tackle Justin Britt at left guard, college defensive tackle and 2014 practice-squad two-way lineman Drew Nowak replacing traded Max Unger at center and college tight end Garry Gilliam at right tackle.
Cable went to that line following a troublesome – to be charitable – preseason opener against Denver Aug. 14. Russell Wilson got sacked twice in as many drives, including by Von Miller around then-still right tackle Britt on the game’s second play for a lost fumble. The change led to Lemuel Jeanpierre, who entered August the favorite to start at center, getting released this week. Since the moves that also shoved Alvin Bailey to backup again, the line has struggled in run blocking at Kansas City and pass blocking both against the Chiefs two weeks ago and at San Diego last Saturday night.
Yet Cable sees what most others don’t: progress. Especially in Nowak, about whom Cable almost raves for his physicality and quick mastery of the blocking schemes and calls.
“I think that’s the right word, is progress. We haven’t had any setbacks of any kind, and it’s just been a constant move in the right direction,” he said. “There are some things that still can get him, just because of experience, in terms of physical, being in command, the tempo. We were much, much better the other night than we had been the first two weeks, in terms of being on cadence, on time, all that.”
Then, this: “Really excited about where we’re going. I think this might be, before it’s all said and done, the best group I’ve had. So we’ll see how it plays out.”
Cable also raves about Gilliam’s athleticism at right tackle. Gilliam said in the locker room in San Diego Saturday he needs to be more consistent staying low enough on all his run blocks.
But overall he has stood out for being quick enough to stay with Kansas City’s and San Diego’s outside pass rushers. That has been a problem the last two seasons for Seattle’s line.
Cable left Gilliam in for all 63 offensive snaps at San Diego because he needs to learn on the job and the undrafted free agent signed in 2014 had never played an entire NFL game before. His only previous season as anything other than a tight end was his senior one at Penn State when he was also a right tackle.
"I thought he got a little sloppy in the fourth quarter there because it got easy for him,” Cable said of Gilliam against the Chargers. “The guy he was playing against and he kind of took things for granted, which is a great learning lesson for him.
“But, outstanding again.”
As for the many who will say each time the line misses an assignment or Nowak misses a block at center that Nowak is in over his head, Cable has a tip.
“Just watch, you’ll see. I know that because we went through that with J.R. (another converted defensive tackle). I went through it years ago with Jeremy Newberry, with Tarik Glenn. They probably say that about Garry too,” Cable said.
“But these guys are really special and they’re just getting started. I think if anyone is really confident, it’s probably me more than anybody because I see them every day, but I’ve seen what they’ve done the last two weeks, and we haven’t been like that in weeks two and three in the preseason thus far. So, pretty excited
Cable likes Britt inside at left guard replacing the departed James Carpenter (now with the New York Jets) because of his willingness to scrap in there.
“I think, really for him, it’s just knowing it’s a different world. Outside, there’s all this space and you have to have patience. Inside, you’re in a bar fight every snap,” Cable said. “So I think that mentality suits him well, he’s got that kind of demeanor in him, and just getting comfortable with his hand speed and the timing of that. But really it simplifies it. It just becomes a little more angry, a little more violent in there. And that’s OK.
Asked if he could expect Britt to improve drastically from the opener to, say, week seven, Cable said: “No.
“I think he’ll be really good week one. He’s a special player. He’s good."