To hear many in the NFL tell it, the spread offense in college football is the worst invention since the adobe submarine. Offensive linemen who make it to the NFL have no experience in the three-point stance used in run-blocking, which accounts for much of the epidemic of dorky offenses plaguing the league, including right here in Field Goal City.
Seahawks center Justin Britt, who was a rookie right tackle from Missouri’s spread offense when the Seahawks drafted him in the second round in 2014, tends to agree.
“The three-point stance was new to me at tackle,” he said. “At Missouri, we were in a two-point stance 90 percent of the time. It’s a big transition.
“My rookie year, I was overthinking, trying to be perfect. Now, I know where to put my helmet and hands, and I trust myself not to be perfect, but right.”
It did take him three years and two position changes before he was good enough to earn a contract extension. At the moment, he’s the Seahawks’ only O-lineman who’s a little above NFL average.
Then again, there’s a secret, exotic technique Britt deployed that pushed him through. It was revealed Wednesday before practice by defensive end Cliff Avril, against whom Britt toiled in practice that first year.
“The coolest thing about Justin was he wasn’t afraid to ask questions,” he said. “After practice, if I beat him on a rush, he’d be like, ‘Bro, what did I do there?’ What made you do this?’
“That’s why he’s been successful. He’s not afraid to ask and learn.”
How tough can that be? As the Seahawks prepare to head to Nashville to play the Tennessee Titans Sunday, the O-line has become the vortex of controversy, the culprit in the slow start that has produced a single touchdown in two games.
Fans want players traded, coaches fired and goats sacrificed. Some of the answers are simpler.
“When I was young, I asked questions, too,” Avril said. “I’d ask veteran linemen things, I’d ask the coaches what they were teaching.
“(These days) it doesn’t happen too often. Pride gets in the way of asking questions and sounding like a dummy. You know us alpha males: They can’t ask questions because they’ll be made fun of. So what? As long as you get what you need to learn.”
It’s sounds a little ridiculous, but hey, that’s what a lot of guys do. Ask any spouse who inquired of her driver-husband if he was lost.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was reluctant to blame any single aspect for the Seahawks problem, saying “everything is relative,” meaning that all clubs are in the same bind when it comes to finding lineman who can handle NFL assignments the right away.
But the problem haunts the Seahawks more than most teams because they have invested so heavily in the defense, always Carroll’s No. 1 priority. The result is less investment on the offensive side. The Seahawks’ line always will have a higher-than-normal turnover rate.
In Sunday’s 12-9 slog over San Francisco, the Seahawks had 38 yards on 19 rushes through three periods before finally exhausting the 49ers defense. And quarterback Russell Wilson, apparently mistrustful of his pass protection, attempted only a single throw deeper than 20 yards.
Besides Britt, the Seahawks started second-year players at the tackles (Rees Odhiambo and Germain Ifedi), a fifth-year left guard coming off knee surgery (Luke Joeckel), and a right guard in his third year (Mark Glowinski). That’s better than last season, but that says little.
The group played every snap, but Carroll hinted Monday that “there will be some things that will be a little bit different this week.”
He didn’t elaborate Wednesday, but speculation was Oday Aboushi, a fourth-year veteran, has a shot to start ahead of Glowinski. The Seahawks also could have better blocking at tight end if an ankle sprain keeps out starter Jimmy Graham and Carroll deploys Luke Willson.
Then came news Wednesday that Joeckel was held out of practice because of his knee.
Whoever shows up Sunday against the Titans, a three-point favorite, the limited supply of quality linemen likely will not change, nor will Carroll change priorities.
Carroll also mentioned that the collectively bargained reduction in allowable contact during practice over the past five years has changed the game.
“It affects the game fundamentally,” he said. “It is hard to hold on to the fundamentals of this game, which is blocking and tackling and the leverage and pad level and the physical parts of the game.
“There is no reason to complain about it. It is relative. Everybody has the same opportunities. (As a season goes on) it is difficult to stay abreast and I think you can tell. I totally feel like I can see it happen.”
But as the changes sweep over the industry, there’s a game to be won every week. Britt has a suggestion for his Seahawks linemates: Talk to Avril.
“He’s a good guy to get you right,” he said. “I got my fill of experience going against him. He made my rookie year a lot easier as it went on.”
Avril explained that his store has been open only a couple of weeks.
“I didn’t give Britt those tips until after training camp,” he said, smiling, “so training camp would be easier for me.”
Who knew Cliffs Notes would come back into educational fashion?
Art Thiel is co-founder at Sportpress Northwest.