RENTON, Wash. (AP) — It almost seems unfair to the rest of the league that the best team in the NFC might be the closest it’s been to being fully healthy all season going into Week 11.
The Seattle Seahawks are just fine with the possibility that offensive linemen Max Unger, Russell Okung, Breno Giacomini, defensive end Red Bryant and wide receiver Percy Harvin will all be on the field Sunday when they host Minnesota.
That’s three-fifths of Seattle’s expected starting offensive line for the season, their run-stuffing defensive end and their dynamic new wide receiver, who has yet to play a snap, that could all be rejoining the team heading into the most important time of the season.
Seattle has played the entire season without Harvin due to hip surgery in early August. Okung suffered a toe injury in Week 2 against San Francisco and Giacomini injured his knee a week later. Unger missed two games earlier in the season with an arm injury before sitting out last week with a concussion, the same injury that caused Bryant to miss last week as well.
They are five important pieces the Seahawks were counting on being major contributors throughout the season. And it makes their 9-1 record missing those five for part or all their season more impressive.
“We’ve had a lot of success and we haven’t had 100 percent of our best players out there,” Seattle safety Earl Thomas. “No discredit to the guys that have been getting it done for us because they’ve elevated their game.”
There are still questions about whether all five will play on Sunday, most notably Harvin who was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday. There was another concerning addition to the Seahawks lengthy injury report on Wednesday with cornerback Richard Sherman sitting out with a listed hip injury, coupled with what coach Pete Carroll has already called a “significant” groin injury suffered by Brandon Browner.
Unger and Bryant were both limited participants, as was safety Kam Chancellor with a hip injury. Giacomini was full and Okung was not listed on the injury report as he is not currently on the active roster but allowed to practice.
Seattle’s decimated offensive line has improved dramatically the past two weeks, giving up just one sack in the past two games after allowed 10 in the two weeks prior against Arizona and St. Louis. At the same time, Seattle’s run game has found a rhythm with Marshawn Lynch coming off season-high performances of 125 yards against the Buccaneers and 145 yards last Sunday against Atlanta.
The Seahawks also added the unique wrinkle of altering the structure of its line by the situation. Against the Falcons, when Seattle would insert rookie Alvin Bailey at left tackle, slide Paul McQuistan from left tackle to left guard and bring James Carpenter off the field on certain downs. McQuistan started the season at left guard before moving to out to tackle when Okung got injured. Bailey, who went unselected in April’s draft, also played a brief stint at right guard against Atlanta.
The idea of changing the line on the fly came from offensive line coach Tom Cable. It’s odd because offensive linemen and line coaches usually strive for as much continuity as possible.
“There’s no doubt that we’ve had issues and so we had to figure out a way to help the team so if that meant moving those guys in and out last week then it worked,” Cable said. “It was good. It’s a credit to them. They were ready to play, so we were able to do that. If they’re not then you are stuck with what you’ve got.”
Because three starters are expected to return on Sunday doesn’t mean the reserves that have played well recently will go back to the bench. For Okung and Giacomini especially, they have practiced for only two weeks and haven’t played in a game since September. They’re expecting breaks to come against the Vikings as they both try and build back to full endurance.
“I get the point. You don’t want to come back and just rush into things and maybe hurt something else,” Giacomini said. “It’s fine. We all prepare like we’re the starters. We could dress every guy in our (offensive line) room and plug them in. Kind of like a hockey deal, five and five.”
Both Okung and Giacomini said it was beneficial they were going through the rehab process at the same time.
“We’re both guys that love the game and we couldn’t wait to get back,” Okung said. “We were both encouraging each other the whole time along the way.”