By John Boyle Herald Writer
RENTON — With Breno Giacomini sitting out a second straight practice because of a knee injury, the Seahawks are facing the very real possibility that when they play at Houston this weekend, they’ll be doing so with backups at both tackle spots.
That would be a concern for an offense — and a quarterback in particular — on any Sunday, but when the offense and quarterback have to contend with Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, well, on the surface that looks like a recipe for disaster.
The Seahawks knew they would be playing this game without left tackle Russell Okung, who is on injured reserve with a bad toe, but with right tackle Giacomini now dealing with a knee injury, and with Watt being a player who lines up primarily on that side of the line, that could mean rookie Michael Bowie, a seventh-round draft pick out of NCAA Division II Northeastern State, will make his first NFL start trying to block the most disruptive defensive force in the league.
Good luck with that, rook.
When talking about Watt, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson noted, “He’s got it all, so we’re going to have to play our best football. It’s hard to stop a guy like that. The thing is, can we slow him down and make the plays when we need to?”
And while it may seem like the worst way possible to make a first start, Bowie is looking forward to the possibility of facing Watt.
“I’m ready to go, man,” Bowie said. “I live for moments like this. I’m anxious. … It’s a big test for me. It’s going to allow me to see where I’m at. If I play pretty good, I feel like I can only get better from there. It’d help my confidence a lot.”
Watt, who left Wisconsin a year before Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson got there — Wilson said Watt told him at the Pro Bowl that the Badgers probably would have won a national title had he stayed for the 2011 season — went from talented rookie in 2011 to a dominant force last year. After that promising rookie season, Watt posted one of the most impressive defensive seasons in league history in 2012, totaling 20.5 sacks, 39 tackles for loss, and 16 passes defensed, an absurd number for a defensive lineman, which helped him earn the nickname J.J. Swat.
“He’s really good,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a fantastic football player. He just causes so many problems. He plays with incredible effort in intensity and consistency and stuff, so we really have to pay attention.”
What makes Watt’s dominance all the more impressive is how he got to this point. The Wisconsin native started his college career as a tight end at Central Michigan, then went to Wisconsin as a walk-on. Still, he never doubted he could end up where he is now.
“Yeah, that was the plan,” Watt said on a teleconference. “This was always the plan and always the goal. My whole life, I’ve had expectations for myself and goals for myself that a lot of other people thought were unrealistic or didn’t think were possible, and that was fine by me. All I needed was myself to believe in the goals and the people who were immediately around me. That’s all that matters to me.”
When Watt got to Wisconsin, he quickly made an impression even if he didn’t come there as a top recruit. Watt’s size and athletic ability are part of what makes him so good, but that wasn’t what made the biggest impression on his teammates.
“His heart, his character, his work ethic, just his mentality,” said Seahawks safety Chris Maragos, who played with Watt at Wisconsin. “That’s the biggest thing that separates him from so many other people. He’s got a mentality of never quitting. He always wants to win.”
Maragos and Watt are two of several Badgers who still work out together in the offseason, and the safety says nothing has changed when it comes to Watt’s drive. When a trainer orders a set of 10 sprints to finish a workout, Watt keeps going.
“We do our 10 sprints and I start walking off, and he’s back on the line running,” Maragos said. “I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ He’s like, ‘I’m doing four extra for each round of the playoffs and the Super Bowl.’ That’s just his mentality: ‘I want to do more and I’m going to find a way to be great. Average isn’t good enough for me.’”
Watt is indeed anything but average, and on Sunday, he could be a real issue for a depleted Seahawks line.
Said Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell: “He’s definitely someone that we have to account for and make sure that he doesn’t wreck the whole day for us.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.