Tom Cable won’t recognize the offensive line on the other side of the field in London — because it is playing better than any unit he coached in Seattle since 2012.
Mike Solari replaced Cable (who ended up back in Oakland) this year and has tailored his hybrid scheme to fit the talents and aggressive nature of a line that now includes former first-round picks Duane Brown, D.J. Fluker and Germain Ifedi; second-rounder Justin Britt, and Cable’s one-time conversion project, J.R. Sweezy.
Since Fluker and Sweezy took over at the guard spots in Week 3, the Seahawks have led the NFL in rushing (474 yards on 105 runs) and are now in the top 10 overall — like they used to be when Marshawn Lynch was Beast Moding to bail out Cable’s poorly schemed and oft-injured lines.
If they keep going like this, the Hawks should try to keep this group together for a couple more years.
The Hawks have had a 100-yard rusher in three straight games (Chris Carson twice, Mike Davis) for the first time since in-his-prime Lynch in 2012, when Russell Okung and Max Unger were Pro Bowl players.
This unit also has been very good in pass protection, ranking second in the league (per PFF) since Fluker and Sweezy entered the lineup.
“I think we’ve just created an identity,” Brown said. “At first, we were all trying to just improve as individual players, trying to mesh and create that continuity and that chemistry. As we’ve gotten comfortable and played with more confidence, you can just see the evolution there. I think we’ve all gotten better as individual players. As a group, this is the best we’ve been.
“We were very confident, we communicate well to the point where we don’t have to communicate. That’s where you want to be as a line, where you don’t have to over-communicate (because) everybody kind of knows what each other’s going to do; we’re all on the same page. We’re physical; everyone’s playing with a great amount of physicality and aggression. We know what we can do. We’ve done it over the course of a few weeks now. We know that can be our identity; that’s what we can be about no matter who we line up against. It’s a great feeling, and it’s a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Brown said Fluker has had a “huge impact. Fluke: He’s a massive human being, first of all. Just the passion that he plays with, you don’t see it that often. The fun that he has and the demeanor that he has, it’s needed, not just for our offensive line, but for our locker room in general. To have a guy like that, every day he comes with a certain level of energy and just passion for the game. He’s happy to be a part of this, he’s happy to be out there; and, when he’s out there, he makes his presence felt. … I’m glad to have him, and we’re glad to have him.”
Brown said coaches have shown the pancake block by Fluker against Ndamukong Suh “at least 10 times, and it never gets old. It doesn’t get any better than that. That’s not easy — I’ve got a lot of respect for Suh. You don’t see that happen often.”
Oh my goodness. Watch DJ Fluker (RG) with the savage pancake of Suh on this touchdown. pic.twitter.com/OleSTLNNrQ
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) October 7, 2018
We’re only a third of the way through the season; but, if the Seahawks are able to keep their line healthy, it looks like they might have found a combination that could work beyond this season.
If Fluker can avoid more injuries, the 27-year-old might merit a short-term extension. If he plays every game the rest of the way and continues to be as effective as he has been in his first three starts, the Hawks surely will consider giving him a multi-year deal. Due to injury concerns, he has been paid $4.5 million the past two seasons with New York and Seattle, so he surely wouldn’t command too much — maybe an incentive-laden $12 million over three years. He would be worth it even if he plays just 12 games a season.
Sweezy, 29, also might merit a short, cheaper contract, if he is interested in returning at that rate and doesn’t get much of a market.
Asked in London if he would like to re-sign the guards, Carroll said, “Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. We feel like we have the core of a group that can really make a difference. … When you sense that the core is there, now it’s time to build around that and fortify that. As we have done in the past, we would like to move in that direction if possible. It’s not always as easy as it sounds, but it’s clear with the young running backs and the guys that really have a flare for the style that we want to play in that we have a chance to do that.”
If the Hawks could keep Fluker and/or Sweezy, they could have a really solid core for at least the next couple of years. Brown is signed through 2021, Britt and Ethan Pocic through 2020, Ifedi for another year (two, if the Hawks pick up his fifth-year option).
The Hawks also control George Fant for another year, so they could decide next year which guy they want to play right tackle going forward (Ifedi has played just fine after all of the preseason concern). Rookie Jamarco Jones, who is on IR, could be another option at right tackle after next season.
There’s a long way to go this season, of course, and the veteran guards still have to stay healthy and maintain this level of play to prove they merit re-signing. But how great would it be to nail down a good, veteran line for a few more years?