Size matters in football. But it’s relative. Offensive linemen are, by definition, large. D.J. Fluker is large the way Aretha Franklin is great — whoever is second almost doesn’t count.
Asked his ideal playing weight, the 6-foot-5 Fluker estimated it was about 340 pounds.
“I’ll get there” by the start of the season, he said after practice Wednesday, sort of in the way NASA says missions to Mars get there. But a few doughnuts here or there are secondary to the fact that if the Seahawks wanted to underscore a point about regaining the run game, Fluker makes a compelling argument.
“He’s a different style of player than we’ve had, as big and as stout as he is,” said coach Pete Carroll. “He knows our system really well. He’s really vocal, a leader. He’s done a lot of really good stuff. He seems to be in shape to take every day’s work.”
Barring injury, Fluker is the starting right guard at a bargain $1.5 million, only $300,000 guaranteed. Of course, the Seahawks have a long history of blue-light specials in the O-line that prove the axiom about getting what you pay for.
Previous coach Tom Cable loved him some reclamations such as J’Marcus Webb, Drew Nowak and Bradley Sowell, plus last year’s project, Luke Joeckel, who wasn’t a blue-light special because he inexplicably cost $8 million and played just 11 games because of injury. He was not re-signed by the Seahawks, or anyone else.
Partly because of those failed outcomes, Cable was fired and replaced by Mike Solari, who was the line coach with the New York Giants, where Fluker played last season. Solari lobbied for Fluker’s signing, despite a toe injury that limited him to five games, because of his “pure-ass attitude.”
“I love that,” Fluker said, beaming. “That’s who I am. I love finishing guys off. In the fourth quarter, I’m not tired at all.”
That, of course, is always the issue with players of unusual size: Can they endure a game, and a season? Fluker is only 27, and won three national championships in his four seasons at Alabama, but the former first-round draft pick in 2013 wouldn’t have been as affordable if there were no red flags.
“We were concerned going into camp, because we weren’t real sure,” Carroll said of the health of Fluker, who during OTAs was sporting a knee brace and a limp. “We treated him very carefully in the offseason. But he’s gotten into camp shape. He’s not missing anything. He’s doing a beautiful job.”
His prime task is run-blocking, which the first unit showed Thursday in the exhibition opener that it is possible for the Seahawks to do. Fluker found it hard to grasp last season how futile were the Seahawks’ ground efforts.
“Russell (Wilson) was the leading rusher, I believe,” he said of one of the more dubious feats in Seahawks history. “If you take the pressure off that guy, he’s amazing.”
Fluker’s apparent ownership of right guard allowed a beefed-up Ethan Pocic (320 pounds) to move to left guard next to former All-Pro Duane Brown (315). The little guy, Justin Britt (315) is at center, and Germain Ifedi (325) is at right tackle.
In theory, with a power-blocking scheme taking over for Cable’s zone-blocking preference, along with a big investment in running backs and blocking tight ends, the line has a decent chance to approach the NFL average.
“Just get back to who we are — not trying to be pretty, not trying to be cute,” Britt said Wednesday. “Be physical, nasty and dominating.
“Definitely makes my job easier with two bumpers (Pocic and Fluker) on each side.”
For the moment, Fluker is eager to take advantage of the summer heat wave to get down to his svelte, 340-pound best self.
“It’s hot right now,” he said, “so I feel good about my chances.”
Until then, Fluker offers the additional virtue of being large enough to block the sun for the rest of the offense.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.