Seahawks rookie attempting difficult position change

RENTON — The NFL is full of offensive linemen who made the transition from tackle to guard.

Maybe they didn’t have the lateral agility or the light feet needed to dance with defensive ends on the edge, so despite impressive college credentials, they moved into the interior line, where speed and athleticism are at less of a premium.

What you don’t see much of, however, is a player who was a guard throughout his college career moving to left tackle — arguably the most demanding and important position on the line — after joining an NFL team.

Yet that’s exactly what the Seahawks are doing with undrafted rookie Alvin Bailey, and so far the experiment appears to be working. Bailey, a guard at Arkansas, showed Seahawks coaches the ability to move like a tackle. When you combine that with what offensive-line coach Tom Cable described as some subpar run blocking skills, left tackle, a position that puts a premium on protecting the passer above all else, seemed like a perfect fit.

“It’s just his feet,” Cable said. “And he’s got nice patience. He really kind of came in well-schooled as a protector, but he’s got to learn to run the football.”

It wasn’t a move Bailey expected when the Seahawks signed him, but he’s more than happy to go back to the position he last played in high school if it helps him earn a paycheck in the NFL.

“When I came out here, the coaches put me at tackle,” he said. “It took me a little while to get used to it. I’m still getting better at it, but I’m getting more and more comfortable every day.

“I was (surprised). I was expecting to play guard. But this is where they put me, so I’m just trying to make the most out of it. … I’m a football player, I don’t care if it’s tackle, guard, center, I just want to play.”

Bailey, 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds, more than held his own in Seattle’s preseason opener in San Diego, and despite the fact he went undrafted in April, he’s listed as the No. 2 left tackle behind Pro Bowler Russell Okung. Bailey and seventh-round pick Michael Bowie are each making a strong push to make the team despite not being highly sought after last spring.

“I know that Tom was really excited about the way they played (against San Diego),” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “When you finish a game with no sacks and you run the football well — and those guys played a lot of the game, probably three quarters — they showed very well. They’ve done very well in practice, they’re athletic, and they’ve been on the scheme pretty well. I think that they’ve made a little more progress than we thought just by judging how excited Tom was, so it’s a good start for those guys.”

Yet even if Cable expressed his excitement to Carroll, he hardly sees either rookie as a finished product. Yeah, they can stand up an opposing pass rusher — and that’s a big part of a tackle’s job description — but if you’re going to play for a Cable-coached line, you sure as heck better be able to run block.

“We’d like to see (Bailey) and Bowie both pick their intensity up,” Cable said. “This is so different for them, and every snap is really valuable, really important. They don’t understand that yet, but they’re learning it. They’re doing a lot of really good things to put themselves in position to make the team. So can they become pros here in the next three weeks? Can they learn the level of intensity and preparation that goes into it? That’s what we’re waiting to see for them.”

With Bailey in particular, Cable sees an issue with the rookie’s intensity when it comes to run blocking, which helps explain why a player as athletic as Bailey went undrafted despite playing at a major program like Arkansas.

“In terms of running the football, he had a huge intensity problem in college,” Cable said. “He would appear in film like he loved to stand up and pass protect, but here that’s only half the battle. It’s not too difficult to see why he was available to us where he was.”

Of course, Cable wouldn’t be so critical of a player in whom he didn’t see potential. Like so many athletes say, it’s not bad when a coach is riding you, it’s bad when he stops. Cable is no doubt looking to light a fire under Bailey to increase his intensity, and it has shown at times in practice over the past week with Cable riding Bailey after a play.

“You’re just constantly on him,” Cable said. “At some point a man will just decide whether he’s going to be a tough guy or not. It’s not easy doing that. In this game you can be great gentleman off the field, but out here, if you don’t have some orneriness to you, you have no chance.”

Bailey won’t argue with Cable that he is still very much a work in progress, saying “I’m nowhere close to being ready to play yet when the whistle starts blowing for real.”

But he believes the intensity Cable is looking for will show up as he becomes more comfortable making a position switch that is rather rare in the NFL.

“It’s something where I catch myself second-guessing myself,” he said. “I’m still learning the offenses, so sometimes I kind of hesitate, things like that, worrying about doing the right thing instead of just going. It’s something I’ve been working on and something that’ll keep coming along as I keep learning the offense.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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