RENTON — The Seattle Seahawks are shuffling up and dealing with their tackles.
The Seahawks have played only one preseason game and already their first-unit offensive line has undergone at least a temporary change with its tackles.
Seattle plays its second preseason game Thursday night when it hosts the Minnesota Vikings, and it will be the second straight game in which the Seahawks use a first-team offensive-line configuration that’s different from the one that began training camp. The original configuration had Garry Gilliam, who started at right tackle last season, moving to left tackle to replace Russell Okung, who departed via free agency. The Seahawks then had free-agent signing J’Marcus Webb penciled in as the starter at right tackle, with another free-agent signing, Bradley Sowell, slated to be the swingman backing up both spots.
However, Webb suffered a twisted knee in practice last week, an injury that prevented him from playing in Saturday’s 17-16 preseason-opening victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Rather than just slipping Sowell into Webb’s spot, the Seahawks instead moved Gilliam back to the right side and brought Sowell in on the left.
“We don’t have a timeline on J’Marcus right now, so we’re going to stay where we are for a bit until we know more about him,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
The choice is an interesting one. When Okung signed with the Denver Broncos during the offseason, left tackle became arguably the biggest position of intrigue for the Seahawks. When Seattle chose not to address the position through either free agency or the draft, the Seahawks decided to switch Gilliam from the right to the left to replace Okung, thus taking on the responsibility of protecting quarterback Russell Wilson’s blind-side.
However, Gilliam’s transition during the offseason hit a snag when he had to have a cyst removed from his knee, rendering him out of all of Seattle’s offseason on-field activities. He was back for the start of training camp and inserted as the starting left tackle, but he was beginning to see the occasional rep back at right tackle even before Webb’s injury.
“I’ll play on whichever side they need me on,” Gilliam said.
“It was fine,” Gilliam added about playing back on the right side last Saturday. “I did it all last year, so it just took a couple reps and I was back into it. It was cool.”
Meanwhile, the reconfiguration has opened up an opportunity for Sowell. Sowell was a low-key free-agent signing from the Arizona Cardinals during the offseason, a four-year pro who hasn’t started an NFL game since 2013 when he started 12 games for the Cardinals at left tackle. He spent the past two seasons as a backup at both of Arizona’s tackle spots.
But now the Seahawks are giving him a chance to earn a starting spot.
“He’s picked everything up,” Carroll said. “He’s a bright player, he’s played with a really good mentality, he’s aggressive, he finishes plays, you can see he’s been coached well in the past. So now it’s just a matter of the test, to see how he stands up to the challenge of the really good players. He’s going to get a great player in (Minnesota defensive end) Everson Griffen, and they’ve got a really good rush group, so it will be nice for him to match up with that stuff and we’ll see how it looks.”
Said Sowell: “I’m not sure if I’m showing them (I deserve a starting spot) or not. All I’m trying to do is come out here and do exactly what they want me to do and let the film speak for itself. That’s the way you earn a job in this league.”
The little bit of film available so far suggests there’s a chance the new configuration could stick. Seattle’s first-team offensive line played three series last Saturday against Kansas City, and while it was in the game the Seahawks were able to run the ball effectively and didn’t allow a sack.
“I really liked it,” Carroll said of the offensive line play. “I thought we were tight in our pass protection, we really hit some runs against a really nice front. The best evaluation was our ones against their ones, a bunch of plays there, and that gave us a really good feel. … Overall, the group was solid, we communicated well, first time on the road, all that stuff. I’m pleased with that.”
It’s unknown how long the Seahawks will stay with Gilliam on the right and Sowell on the left. Webb returned to practice Tuesday, but he lined up at right tackle with the second unit while Sowell remained with the first unit. Carroll said it’s unlikely Webb will play Thursday, meaning there will be at least one more game with Gilliam on the right and Sowell on the left. And maybe the Seahawks will decide that’s the best configuration for the long haul, too.
For more on the Seattle sports scene, check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at www.heraldnet.com/tag/seattle-sidelines, or follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.