RENTON — Depending on down and distance, it’s normal for a football team to change the number of receiver or defensive backs it has on the field, or to replace bulky defensive linemen with quicker pass rushers.
But situational offensive linemen? That’s just not how things are done in the NFL.
Well not usually anyway, but when you’re making due with three starting linemen out, sometimes you go against conventional wisdom, which is what the Seahawks did last week in Atlanta, and are looking to do again when they host Minnesota on Sunday.
While some teams, including the Seahawks this year and in the past, will switch linemen from series to series to either give one player a break or to ease another player into game action, what Seattle did last week took it to different level. Frequently on passing situations, rookie Alvin Bailey came in and took over at left tackle with Paul McQuistan sliding from tackle to guard and James Carpenter coming out of the game. Bailey, who also spelled J.R. Sweezy at right tackle, ended up playing more than half the offensive snaps (35 of 69) Sunday despite none of the starters going down with an injury.
Contrast that to the 2005 Seahawks — a team this one will continue to be compared to as long as it keeps winning — who started the same five linemen for every game except for the final game of the regular season when they had clinched the No. 1 seed and Walter Jones sat out.
As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, “I know it’s not common,” but it did work to mix things up.
McQuistan, for all his strengths, is simply not a great matchup on the edge against a good pass rusher. There’s a reason his natural position is guard. And in Atlanta, Seattle’s pass protection was as good as it has been since starting tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini went down to injury.
“There’s not doubt we’ve had issues, so we just had to figure out a way to help the team,” offensive line coach Tom Cable said. “So if it meant moving guys in and out last week … and it worked, so it was good.”
Bailey, who signed with Seattle as an undrafted free agent out of Arkansas, did indeed provide a more athletic pass-blocking option, then he showed his versatility by playing guard in the second half. Despite coming into the game having played just four regular-season snaps, Bailey downplayed the challenge of coming in and out of the game, and working at two positions no less.
“It’s not as difficult as it might seem,” Bailey said. “Playing next to a guy like McQuistan, who’s played a lot of football and knows a lot of things, I feel a lot more comfortable out there. It really wasn’t that big of a deal, because we practice it every day, but I was just excited to get out there and play some football.”
Both Giacomini and Okung have returned to practice, and will eventually pencil in as every-down players. But as they ease their way back from long-term injuries, don’t expect the Seahawks this week to end the rather unusual practice of rotating offensive linemen.
“I would really like to keep it going,” Carroll said. “If Breno and Russell can play in the game, they will not have played the full game at all. So to think that they can go out there and just handle it is probably too much to expect. And we have confidence in our guys. We’ve played good football with all of our guys playing.”
And the way the Seahawks see it, the depth they’re developing will pay off in the long run.
“We have had lack of continuity for some time, so we’re … maybe used to the chaos a little bit, but we’re OK about it,” Carroll said. “… I think right now, we’ve been fortunate that we’ve raised now eight or nine guys that can play. That’s pretty darn good. Not very many teams that would feel like that I would think. I can’t say that we’ve felt like that since we’ve been here.”
As expected, Percy Harvin returned to practice Wednesday, though he was listed as limited. Carroll maintained that Harvin’s progress has been encouraging, but added that no decision has been made on whether or not the receiver will make his Seahawks debut Sunday.
“He’s ready to go today, he’s ready to come out and work,” Carroll said. “That doesn’t mean he’s going to play in this game. We don’t know that yet. He’s got to make it through the practices. He feels 100 percent, he feels like he’s ready to go for it. He’s running really hard. I’ve seen him on the practice field a lot, watched him in his workouts, and he’s on it, so it’s a pretty exciting time. We’re all encouraged.”
Carroll also said the plan is still to use Harvin as a kick returner at some point, though he noted, “We’re going to wait until he’s able to play a full game and we know he’s back and all of that. There’s no rush in that at all.”
Carroll said there was no further news on Brandon Browner’s groin injury other than that it is a “pretty serious deal.” Seattle’s other starting corner, Richard Sherman, did not practice with a hip injury. Carroll addressed the media before practice, and since Sherman appeared to finish the game healthy, the cornerback did not come up, so no further update was available.
C Max Unger and DE Red Bryant, who both missed last week’s game with concussions, returned to practice, though they were listed as limited. DT Tony McDaniel, who left the game with a hamstring injury, did not practice.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.