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The Success of the 2018 Season Hinges on one Position Group

Friday, May 11, 2018

 

 

The elephant in the room… The offensive line. Ahh the good ol’ offensive line – two words that can quickly and abruptly ruin a Seahawks fans day. Seahawks fans have endured years of poor offensive line play, even way back when we were winning titles, the offensive line was still well below par in terms of pass protection, but they were good at run blocking, very good. And they need to get back to exactly that moving forward.

 

Seattle has invested handsomely into the run game this offseason with moves that include D.J. Fluker via free agency, drafting a running back in the first round in Rashaad Penny, picking up the best run blocking tight end in the whole country, Will Dissly and standout left tackle Jamarco Jones in the 5th round. They said they were committing to the run at the end of last season and throughout this off-season and true to their word, they’ve done exactly that. They’ve gathered various cogs that will, with any luck, combine to create a well oiled, efficient and most of all, nasty, run game.

 

But will it be enough?

 

The problem last season, specifically relating to the run game, was not Chris Carson getting injured in week 4, nor was it Mike Davis just being ‘a guy’, nor was it Jimmy Graham’s inability to run block. The problem was the five offensive linemen, whose sole responsibility on running downs was to create holes for backs to burst through, they failed. Miserably.

 

Not only were holes not being opened, defensive lineman were getting into the backfield at an alarming rate and shutting down the run. It would take a pretty special back to be able to turn those plays into positive yardage, very special. All we had were average guys who were destined to fail due to the porous line, guys that never stood a chance in all honesty.  Don’t be mad at the backs, don’t even be mad at the lineman, be mad at the coaching staff for continuing to allow Tom Cable to run the show. I’m seldom a critic of Pete Carroll but him keeping Tom Cable around for as long as he did was inexcusable. Sure, I’m relieved he finally pulled the chair from under him and made the necessary move, but it was done too late in my opinion. It’s never going to alter the love I have for coach Carroll, but it’s certainly a criticism I have of him, and that’s fine. Nobody is perfect, including Pete and mistakes do happen. Ultimately, the key thing is to look to the future and appreciate this group of men are no longer going to be hampered by a poor coach and leader.

 

So where does this leave us? With five starting lineman that are below par in terms of NFL level talent? Far from it. Let me start by addressing Germain Ifedi.

 

Ifedi, in college, looked (for the most part) very good. Scratch that, he looked superb. He had the tenacity you’d want out of an offensive lineman, the nastiness you’d want out of an offensive lineman, the north/south explosiveness you’d want out of an offensive lineman and the size you’d want out of an offensive lineman. His main knocks were his footwork and hand usage as a tackle, and that remains a key hindrance to his success today. He has also picked up some pretty awful techniques from Tom Cable, too. He went from being a confident and nasty lineman to a player that was making mental errors all over the place. In my humble opinion, if you want to fix a large portion of Germain’s inefficiencies as a tackle in today’s NFL, you move him to guard.

 

It’s all about setting your players up in the best possible circumstance to succeed, putting him at tackle is going against that entirely. He does not possess the lateral movement or hand placement to excel at tackle, but he does have the north and south explosion to be an absolute game changer at guard, under the right coaching. Playing Ifedi at guard will reduce his penalties, take away his inability to move laterally and slow the whole game down for him. That is how you put players in the best position to succeed, slow it down for them. Simplify it for them. Tom Cable never slowed the game down for him, he taught him to jump backwards to the exact same spot and stick your hands out as soon as the ball is snapped, defensive lineman will notice that on tape and take full advantage of it. His opponent knew what he was going to do every single down and could plan for it, that’s why they were so successful against him. As soon as he got beat, he’d grab their jersey and create a holding penalty. I’ll say it again – He was never put in a position to win under Cable. It’s why he’s now the laughing stock amongst Seahawks fans, but believe me, he has the potential, and I pray Mike Solari is the guy to unlock it.

 

Mike Solari has a pretty impressive resume overall. He has worked with lineman of all abilities and, generally, made them better. I am confident he will be able to knock the bad habits out of Germain but it will take time. I do expect to see big improvements by the mid way point of next season and honesty would not be too surprised to see him as a Pro Bowl Guard (not tackle) in two years.

 

But what about the other guys? I think it’s fair to assume we’re pretty set at left tackle and center with Duane Brown and Justin Britt, but I’d like to see genuine competition at left guard, right guard and right tackle in camp and I suspect that’s exactly what will happen. None of those three positions are locks to anyone, let them compete and may the best three win.

 

 

 

Let’s break it down position by position.

 

Left guard –

 

Who will be competing –

 

Ethan Pocic

Jordan Roos

Jamarco Jones

 

Pocic and Roos both had reps at LG last season and Jones played left tackle in college. Of the three, I’d say Pocic has the best chance to win the job. He was far from exquisite last season but he did flash at times. His feet looked great, his vision looked great and he showed a high football IQ to picking up stunts and blitzes, his biggest knock was his brute strength. He simply got manhandled at times and couldn’t compete with the stronger defensive tackles. It seems both him and the coaching staff spotted this too and he’s subsequently gained a huge amount of muscle mass which is inevitably going to make him stronger. He’s never going to be one these maulers ala D.J. Fluker or Will Hernandez, but he has the makeup to be a fantastic technician and be well above serviceable on the interior of the line.

 

There may be some growing pains early on but he showed good fundamentals last season and I see no reason why he can’t improve on his rookie campaign in year two.

 

Right Guard –

 

Germain Ifedi

D.J. Fluker

Ethan Pocic

 

As I’ve already stated earlier in the article, I think Germain should compete at right guard this summer, and if he does, I’d expect him to win the job.  If the coaching staff try and keep the continuity at keep him at right tackle, the job will effectively be given to D.J. Fluker on a plate. That’s not exactly a scary thought, either. Fluker will be serviceable at minimum and good to great at best. He is a whole lot better in the run game than the pass game which seems to fit with Pete Carroll’s philosophy.

 

Ultimately, though, to get the 5 best players on the field at their best position, I’d like to see Germain start at right guard and stay there all season, injuries around him permitting.

 

 

 

Right tackle –

 

Jamarco Jones

George Fant

D.J. Fluker

 

It may seem initially odd to see Fluker here, however as I stated a few months ago when we signed him in free agency, I think he’s a better tackle than he is a guard. Oddly, he has the same knock at tackle as I have on Ifedi in that his footwork laterally is poor as is his hand placement, but on tape, it doesn’t seem to matter. PFF seem to agree with me, too, ranking him higher as a tackle then as a guard. Interesting and reassuring, for me at least, that what I’m seeing on tape is backed up by analytics.

 

Ultimately, though, I don’t think it would be wise to start Fluker at right tackle. Not because he won’t succeed, but I’d sooner get a guy like Jamarco Jones some reps early and get those ‘teething problems’ out the way.

 

You may not know a whole lot about Jones so I will elaborate, prior to the combine, he was pegged as a potential second round pick, PFF had him as the third best tackle in the whole class, impressive. So how did we end up with him late in the 5th round? Very simply, his testing at the combine was appalling, really, really appalling.  With the emphasis on athleticism in today’s offensive line groups, it caused Jones to slide all the way down to the 5th, he is the steal of the draft if you ask me.

 

Here’s something that may raise your eyebrows, do you want to know who also tested horrifically? Andrew Norwell. The guard picked up by the Panthers in undrafted free agency that signed a record setting deal worth $66,500,000 making him the highest paid guard in the NFL. Testing isn’t everything in this league and sometimes you have to just watch the guy on the football field and see how he does and that is especially true with Jamarco Jones.

 

There’s always all sorts of hype surrounding George Fant, too. Personally, until I see it on tape I won’t believe it. Pete raves about him but that’s part of his job. He also raved about Nick Vannett and Kevin Pierre Louis and…you get the picture. Until I see Fant play at a good level, I will go on the assumption that he’s a perennial backup and on the cusp of being out of the league very soon. 

 

In summary, I think there is a place for optimism (finally) surrounding the offensive line and that is 75% accredited to Mike Solari and what he will do with this group. I’m expecting him to go with a power run scheme as opposed to a zone-blocking scheme for the most part and I think it will pay dividends, eventually. There will be games where we question everything, we will continue to doubt Germain Ifedi, we will wonder why we signed Fluker, we will question if Mike Solari is, in fact, the answer to this franchise and this position group but when it’s all said and done and the 2018 NFL season is nothing but a memory, I think we will be feeling far more optimistic about this position group.

 

Here is my starting five projection so we can see how right (or wrong) I am once the season gets underway –

 

LT – Duane Brown

LG – Ethan Pocic

C – Justin Britt

RG – Germain Ifedi

RT – Jamarco Jones

 

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