RENTON — Seattle’s first pick of the 2011 NFL draft was certainly surprising to a lot of fans and draft prognosticators.
To the Seahawks’ top decision makers, however, the selection of James Carpenter, a tackle from Alabama, with the 25th pick Thursday was almost a no-braine
r, and it was far from disappointing.
“We’ve watched this guy all along,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. “We had him targeted throughout. … James brings us a toughness that we need. We have to continue to build our football team up front, and it’s just a necessary move for us to make to get this guy.”
Still, even if the Seahawks are thrilled to have Carpenter, it wasn’t a pick very many people saw coming. Even Carpenter himself admitted surprise at where he was selected.
“It was crazy,” he said in a conference call. “I was so shocked. I thought I was going to go in the second, but somebody had faith in me. I’m glad to be a Seattle Seahawk.”
A year after the Seahawks found their left tackle of the future in Russell Okung, they again used their top pick on an offensive lineman in hopes of building bookends for their line for years to come.
“I like a lot of things about this guy,” said offensive line coach and assistant head coach Tom Cable. “He’s a big, massive guy, 321 pounds, with a lot of length and a lot of power. We upgraded ourselves in terms of toughness and getting some mass along the line, which is something we needed to do. … We have a fine left tackle here in Russell Okung. This will give us a chance to build with two blocks on the edge and move forward and work on the inside.”
Told that one analyst called Carpenter a finesse player, Cable responded: “I wouldn’t have drafted him if he was finesse. That’s not my style.”
And the Seahawks weren’t shy Thursday to say what they expect to get out of Carpenter.
“We’re going to look at him as our starting right tackle, to take that shot right there,” Carroll said. “He has to compete to get that done. … But we’d like to see him go right after the right tackle spot and take it.”
Carpenter was a two-year starter at left tackle for the Crimson Tide, though his future in Seattle will be at right tackle. His versatility is an added bonus for a team that started 10 line combinations in 16 regular season games last year, in large part because of injuries. While Carpenter will start the season at right tackle, the fact that he played left tackle in college, and demonstrated an ability to play guard at the Senior Bowl made him even more valuable in the eyes of Carroll and Seahawks general manager John Schneider.
“Quite frankly our top-rated guy came to us,” Schneider said. “He stayed there the whole time, and away we go. We’ve got two good young tackles, so we’re really excited about that. He’s a really tough, nasty, aggressive solid guy. He showed really well down there at the Senior Bowl against top competition. He played in the SEC against excellent competition, and he’s just one of those guys, as we try to change the culture of our team, that’s going to add to us being tougher up front.”
Taking Carpenter showed again that Carroll and Schneider are committed to building a strong offensive line. A year ago, their first pick was Okung, and this year they again went with a lineman first. In eight drafts prior to last year’s Seattle chose just one offensive lineman in the first round, center Chris Spencer in 2005.
“This is a bit of a statement,” Carroll said. “Russell was a bit of a statement in the beginning last year. To come right back and get it with a right tackle right now is just a continued commitment displayed. We’re a long ways away but we’re moving in the right direction, so that’s why we’re all fired up about it.”
Seattle certainly had other options at No. 25. Quarterback Andy Dalton was still available after an early run of four quarterbacks in the top 12 picks, including Jake Locker at No. 8. Also on the board were a number of top defensive prospects including cornerback Jimmy Smith and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson. Carpenter’s Alabama teammate and former Heisman Trophy winner, running back Mark Ingram was also available. But ultimately the Seahawks, who finished 31st in the league in rushing last season, decided to dedicate resources to one of their most glaring weaknesses.
“It’s just such a great pick for us to get right now,” Carroll said. “We’re going to have to continue to build. It’s not as exciting as a flashy receiver or something like that, but at this stage of our program, we think it’s really important to get hardnosed, tough guys that can come in here and have flexibility and really help us out.”
Carpenter, who is 6-foot-4, 321 pounds, helped his draft stock at the Senior Bowl when he showed he could play on the right side as well as left.
“I’m very comfortable at right tackle,” he said. “I’ve been practicing it since the end of the season and I do pretty good at it.”
Carpenter, who is from Augusta, Ga., originally committed to Iowa State, but enrolled at Coffeyville Community College when he failed to qualify academically. After joining the Crimson Tide two seasons ago, he immediately took over the starting job at left tackle and blocked for Ingram in his Heisman Trophy season in 2009.
And while some fans may not be thrilled with the pick, it’s worth covering the above paragraph once again. The guy transferred to Alabama, one of the best programs in the country, and immediately won the starting job at one of the game’s most important positions. And oh, by the way, that team won a national title and produced a Heisman Trophy winning running back.
For all he accomplished, however, Carpenter was surprised to go before Ingram, who was taken three picks later by New Orleans.
“Mark is a real great player,” he said. “I’m good myself, but I was surprised that Mark was taken before that, because he’s a really good player.”
In addition to helping solidify Seattle’s line, the pick also would seem to signal the end of Sean Locklear’s tenure in Seattle. Locklear, the starting right tackle for most of his seven seasons in Seattle, had his contract restructured last offseason to make him a free agent after the 2010 season.
Leading up to the draft, Schneider made no secret of the fact that he would have liked to trade down to accumulate more picks, but while the Seahawks had some things in the works, he said some deals didn’t work out, and that they walked away from another in order to take Carpenter.
“We had a couple of things going, and we had some things fall apart,” Schneider said. “You have to have a partner that’s going to be willing, and for us it was like, ‘Hey, if this guy stays there we’re just going to take him.’ We got to that and we were really comfortable.”
The draft resumes today with the second and third rounds. Seattle picks 25th again in the second round (57th overall), and does not have a third-round pick having traded it to San Diego last spring as part of the Charlie Whitehurst trade.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog