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On guard, and then some
Yes, J.R. Sweezy had those “are they serious?” thoughts when the Seahawks suggested that the defensive tackle from North Carolina State consider moving to the offensive line.
But he quickly learned just how serious the Seahawks were when assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable showed up in Raleigh for a pre-draft visit.
“I knew they were serious after talking to coach Cable,” Sweezy said this week, when the team’s draft choices are wrapping up their offseason program before heading to Ohio for the NFL Rookie Symposium and then their extended break before training camp opens in late July.
“We hit it off real well. We talked for a while. He told me about the team and I realized I wanted to be a part of this. Luckily, I have the opportunity. I’ve been blessed enough that they gave me the opportunity to do it.”
So, now in his sixth week of life on the other side of the line, how is the transition going for the seventh-round draft choice? It’s one thing to switch from defense to offense in college. It’s something completely different when you’re doing it at the highest level of the game.
“It’s good. I’m adjusting well,” Sweezy said. “It’s different, as I’ve said in every interview. It’s really different. It’s different from everything I’ve pretty much been taught my whole life.”
He made it through the rookie minicamp in May, the OTA practices and last week’s full-squad minicamp without once tackling the ball carrier he was blocking for, or returning to the defensive huddle after the play was over.
“At least I’ve got the basics,” he said, smiling. “It’s coming. Slowly, but surely.
“It’s taken awhile to get used to, but I’m starting to slow down and see what’s happening. Now I’ve got to start working on recognizing the defenses, because my whole life I’ve been looking at offenses.”
Well, almost his whole life. Those reports that Sweezy never had played on the offensive line weren’t completely accurate.
“I played it in Pee Wee football one year. I was like 8,” he said. “I think I played center. I don’t really remember.”
At Mooresville (N.C.) High School, Sweezy was a linebacker who made 195 tackles in 12 games as a senior, when he also won the state heavyweight wrestling championship. The following season, he redshirted as a defensive end at NC State. He played in two games at end in 2008, moved to tackle and worked in a rotation in 2009 and then started his final two seasons.
Now, he has taken a quantum leap out of his comfort zone. The biggest adjustment for Sweezy has been seeing things from the other side, and then trusting what he thinks he’s seeing.
“The hardest thing? I would say recognizing the defense and when the defense moves making the right adjustment call,” he said. “As a defensive lineman, you usually get a play and somebody might move, but you know what the check is, you know what it’s going to be.
“But as an offensive lineman, there are about four or five options on every play. If somebody moves, what can happen? You’ve got to run all that through your head, and do it a lot faster.”
When the Seahawks looked at the 6-foot-5, 298-pound Sweezy, they saw a potential guard because of his demeanor, intelligence, toughness and the way he had played on defense for the Wolfpack. After Cable made the trip to see for himself, he offered, “For me, what kind of pushed it all over the top was just how quick and athletic he was. That jumped out at me. You put that with those other characteristics and you’re thinking, ‘OK.’ ”
But what made Sweezy say OK? He had other options, as other teams talked to him about remaining on the defensive line.
“I had a lot of calls saying, ‘We’ll pick you up as a D-tackle,’ ” he said. “But as a free agent. This team drafted me. So I was just excited for the opportunity.
“I believe I can do this. It’s just going to take a lot of work. More work than I’ve ever done before. And I’m willing to do it.”