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Max in the middle
Just consider Max Unger a 6-foot-5, 305-pound security blank for Tom Cable.
The Seahawks’ offensive line has been in an injury-induced, scheme-switching state of flux for the past four seasons – when the team has used 12 starters at left guard, 11 at right guard, nine at left tackle, five at right tackle and four at center. Nineteen of those players who have started games – 11 of them at more than one position – aren’t even with the team anymore.
Last season, which was Cable’s first as offensive line coach as well as assistant head coach, injuries to three starters forced him to continue the shuffling by using six starting combinations.
Then there’s Unger, whose first season as the fulltime starter at center coincided with Cable’s arrival. Through it all, Cable had Unger at center for 15 starts last season. This offseason, Unger has been one of two constants on the No. 1 line – right tackle Breno Giacomini being the other – as Cable is taking a look at multiple players at left tackle, left guard and right guard.
“I knew Max when he came out of college,” Cable said Monday, as the coaches and players were preparing for the start of a three-day minicamp on Tuesday – the last hurrah in an offseason program that seemed like it never would start, but suddenly is almost over.
That was in 2009, when Cable was head coach of the Oakland Raiders and Unger ended up being the Seahawks’ second-round draft choice.
“I thought he would be a fine, fine center when he got to this level,” Cable said.
It just took Unger a while to get the opportunity to show that. In ’09, he started his first 13 games at right guard, before taking over at center for the final three after since-departed Chris Spencer broke a hand – as Unger became the first rookie lineman since Ray Roberts in 1992 to start 16 games for the Seahawks. In 2010, Unger got a season-ending toe injury in the opener, also while playing right guard.
“When I got here, we made some decisions – in terms of people that were here; those who weren’t going to be; and then those that were, but were they in the right spot,” Cable said. “I kind of just drew on my past with Max. I thought three years ago when he came out that he’d be a terrific center. So we put him there from Day One and his development has been second to none on this team.”
Last season wasn’t easy for anyone, because the 136-day lockout erased the offseason in a year when the running game was being reworked under Cable as part of the new offense that was being installed by coordinator Darrell Bevell.
“It’s a pretty big difference,” Unger said when asked to compare this condensed offseason to, well, no offseason at all. “Coming in off a lockout and learning a new system as opposed to now – just kind of coming off a pretty successful second half of the season for the O-line – it’s kind of being able to go from where we left off.”
While season-ending injuries in one painful four-week stretch at midseason to left tackle Russell Okung and the rookie right side of the line – tackle James Carpenter and guard John Moffitt – were difficult to cope with, it forced Paul McQuistan, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Giacomini into the lineup. Each played well, which has only added to the depth this offseason. So have the additions of veterans Deuce Lutui, Frank Omiyale and Alex Barron in free agency; and the rookie tandem of free agent Rishaw Johnson and seventh-round draft choice J.R. Sweezy.
“We had two rookies starting last year. They’re not rookies anymore, so that’s nice,” Unger said. “(We) brought in some more veteran guys. They’re running a system not necessarily from the same style, but they’ve played a lot of football. So that’s pretty cool.”
So is having Unger to anchor the line for Cable. “He’s a fine, fine player now,” Cable said.
Not to mention the on-field leader of the group – which comes with playing the center position.
“That’s his role and his responsibility to his team,” Cable said.
With Unger at center Okung back to claim the left tackle spot he was drafted to play, Cable is just feeling better about his unit.
“I see those two as the building blocks, if you will, and the guys that you have to build the group around.” he said. “They’ve been in the games now enough to be able to lead and know what to expect and what’s going to happen.
“And, take the younger guys where we’re trying to go.”