Some — maybe even many — people thought the Seahawks screwed up by not drafting an offensive lineman before the late fifth round last weekend.
Sure, they could have selected Austin Corbett or Will Hernandez instead of Rashaad Penny with their first pick (after trading down, of course). But the Seahawks have put a lot of resources into the line over the past couple of years, and Pete Carroll obviously is betting Mike Solari will do a much better job with that talent than Tom Cable did.
Carroll is expecting Solari to boost the Hawks out of a two-year funk that has seen them rank second only to Detroit in fewest rushing yards by non-quarterbacks. (Russell Wilson’s 845 yards raise Seattle to 11th worst.)
After largely ignoring the line from 2012 to 2015, John Schneider certainly has invested a lot over the past two years. He has used a first-rounder, two seconds and two thirds, and Seattle’s financial investment has increased from the lowest in the NFL to the middle of the pack now that the team is paying both Justin Britt and Duane Brown (who should get an extension this offseason, too).
The Hawks have three former first-rounders and two seconds among their top five, and Solari has always done well when he has had that kind of talent. He coached San Francisco’s line from 2010 to 2014 and had the same kind of draft stock to work with. With three first-rounders and a third in 2011, the 49ers ranked eighth in rushing and advanced to the NFC title game. In 2012, with the first-rounders still starting, they ranked fourth in rushing and reached the Super Bowl. They were third in rushing in 2013, the year they lost to Seattle in the NFC title game.
With Brown, Britt, Ethan Pocic and Germain Ifedi returning, the Seahawks have rare continuity. It’s the first time they have had four holdover starters since their 2013-14 Super Bowl years. Seattle also added road-grading right guard D.J. Fluker, who knows Solari’s system from last year with the Giants.
“It’s just learning the new system with Solari and (Brian Schottenheimer) and going from there, growing from there,” Britt recently told Seahawks.com. “Our line is mostly the same for once; it’s pretty much the same people plus the addition of D.J. We’ve just got to continue to grow, and the cohesiveness should be there.
“You think about me and Ethan: We played the last half of the year, and towards the end of the year we started really working together really well. If he stays there, it’s just working with the same guy you worked with last year and continuing that. And Duane being in the system one more year and getting to know us more, and Germain getting more comfortable at right tackle, and just seeing the young guys grow. … We’re all new to Solari except Fluker, but it’s a great opportunity for us.”
At this point, the line is expected to be (left to right) Brown, Pocic, Britt, Fluker and Ifedi. But George Fant could push Ifedi at right tackle. Rookie Jamarco Jones seems likely to make it as a backup on the left side, and then it comes down to young vets Rees Odhiambo, Joey Hunt, Jordan Roos and maybe Isaiah Battle and undrafted rookie Skyler Phillips.
The arrival of Solari could be good for guys like Ifedi and Odhiambo, who have vastly underachieved based on their draft positions (first and third rounds in 2016). But this will be their chance to show they are better than they were under Tom Cable, who ran a much more passive zone scheme than Solari is expected to employ.
Because Pocic can play center, Hunt might end up moving on — or back to the practice squad for one more year. It depends whether Solari likes Roos better as a backup guard (or maybe Roos will even push Pocic on the left side).
All in all, the arrival of Solari and the carryover of four expected starters should make for a much-improved unit this year — and explains why the Seahawks didn’t go with Corbett or Hernandez with their top pick.
“We do feel better about those guys,” Carroll said. “We do have some returning sense and feel for one another and all that. There’s still newness at this time around, but it’s a little different than it’s been. We expect some of the young guys to really be competitive, too, in the ranks of it all. We think we have a good group.”