RENTON — Looking back, J.R. Sweezy isn’t sure how he did it.
At this time last year, Sweezy was still in the early stages of learning how to play guard after being a defensive lineman throughout college and high school. Yet somehow the defensive-tackle-turned-guard improbably performed so well through offseason workouts, training camp and preseason games that he was on the field in Arizona to start the season opener at right guard.
And yes, that season opener didn’t go too well for Sweezy, who was overwhelmed at times going against Cardinals Pro Bowl defender Darnell Dockett. Still, the fact that Sweezy was even on the field as a rookie playing a new position was pretty remarkable.
Now, imagine what Sweezy might be able to do after, you know, actually playing offensive line for a year. Coaches like to say that for any football player, the biggest leap can occur in year two when he has adjusted to the game at the NFL level. So what must year two be like for Sweezy, who at this time last year was trying to learn the basics of offensive line play?
“It’s completely different,” Sweezy said following Seattle’s organized team activities Monday. “To know what I know now compared to what I didn’t know then, it’s amazing that I was able to even attempt to play, to be honest.”
Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable, the man who came up with the crazy idea of moving Sweezy to a position he last played as a young child, said the difference between where Sweezy is this spring compared to last is “night and day.”
“He’s been through it before now,” Cable said. “He understands when you say something what it means. Now he’s becoming an offensive lineman. Now the reps and the muscle memory are starting to kick in, so it’s night and day.”
The fact he has come so far in his knowledge of the position has Sweezy excited for his second season, and the Seahawks are equally excited to see what kind of player he can become. After starting the opener, Sweezy spent much of the season backing up John Moffitt, though the two often split time, and by the end of the season, Sweezy was back in the starting lineup.
Even though he was outmatched in his debut, and even though he spent a lot of the season watching from the bench, Sweezy says he is better for those struggles.
“It was fast,” he said of the season opener. “Really fast. I saw a lot of things that I’d never seen before. It was a heck of a learning experience. I’m glad it happened. It made me grow up a lot, it made me realize what I really needed to do to become a good offensive lineman in this league. … (Losing the starting job) was a learning tool. I’m glad it went that way. I don’t think I’d have been able to make the jump I did from the first game until the end of the season if I had just been playing the whole time.”
Now that Sweezy has a pretty good idea of what he is doing, he’s trying to help out a rookie going through the same thing. In part because of Sweezy’s success, Cable and the Seahawks decided to try the defensive-tackle-turned-offensive-lineman trick again, taking New Hampshire’s Jared Smith in the seventh round, then immediately declaring that Smith would move to the offensive line.
Like Sweezy, Smith worked out for Cable before the draft and was asked if he was open to a position switch. And as an added twist, Sweezy and Smith worked out together in Florida during the offseason and formed a friendship before Smith knew he’d be a Seahawk or an offensive lineman.
“He had heard my story and was like, ‘That’s crazy. Really crazy,’” Sweezy said of their initial meeting. “Then he got put in that story. It’s pretty nuts.”
Since Smith joined the Seahawks, Sweezy has been realistic with the rookie about the inevitable struggles ahead.
“I just told him it’s going to be a process, that he’s going to mess up a lot, but to keep his head high and go fast,” Sweezy said.
The Seahawks signed rookie receiver Arceto Clark Tuesday and waived defensive tackle Myles Wade. Clark, a 5-foot-10, 181-pound undrafted rookie out of Mississippi State, participated in the Seahawks’ rookie minicamp last month. Wade, a Portland State product who went undrafted in 2012, spent training camp with Tampa Bay last year and was signed to Seattle’s practice squad at the end of the season.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.