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And Sweezy makes three
At some point during the offseason, Pete Carroll was talking about how difficult it would be for the first-year players to have an impact on the Seahawks this season because of the talent already on the roster.
Well, the team’s 2012 draft class is making their coach look bad – and good.
With Carroll’s announcement on Wednesday that seventh-round draft choice J.R. Sweezy will start at right guard in Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Cardinals in Arizona, the number of rookie starters is up to three. And counting.
Second-round draft choice Bobby Wagner is the starting middle linebacker, while third-round pick Russell Wilson won the starting quarterback job during the preseason. With leading rusher Marshawn Lynch sitting out practice on Wednesday because of the back spasms that have now sidelined him for 2½ weeks, fourth-round draft choice Robert Turbin is getting the starter reps in practice to prepare him in case he needs to start.
In addition to Wagner, Wilson, Sweezy and possibly Turbin starting, first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin and sixth-round pick Winston Guy are filling valuable situational roles – Irvin as the rush-end opposite Chris Clemons on the nickel line and Guy as the third safety in the Bandit package. Defensive tackle Jaye Howard (fourth round), cornerback Jeremy Lane (sixth round) and defensive lineman Greg Scruggs also made the 53-man roster, while linebacker Korey Toomer (fifth round) is on the practice squad.
No matter how you stack the draft chips, that’s a lot of bang for your draft picks.
“I definitely feel like this rookie class came ready to play and make an immediate impact,” Wagner said. “What we’ve been able to do just shows how ready we were.”
But no one was ready for what Sweezy has been able to pull off. He is making the transition from college defensive tackle to NFL guard look much easier than it is.
“J.R.’s earned it,” Carroll said of Sweezy stepping in while incumbent starter John Moffitt was out following a surgical procedure on his left elbow and refusing to relinquish the spot because of his constantly improving play.
“He did it just the old-fashioned way of hard, tough, day-after-day ball. We saw glimpses right from the beginning, and couldn’t believe that he would learn as he’s learned. But he did.”
Sweezy hasn’t made his miraculous move on his own. Line coach Tom Cable has been there from the start. Literally. It was Cable who made the trip to North Carolina State to determine if Sweezy was worth converting – and drafting. Sweezy also has been playing between center Max Unger and right tackle Breno Giacomini, who have been there to answer his on-the-fly questions and help correct his mistakes during practice and also in the meeting room.
But it’s Sweezy makeup – mental, as well as physical – that has allowed him to do something few could have expected.
“What we do get out of him is a very aggressive kid,” Carroll said. “He’s really tough. And he’ll make plays. If you keep your eye on him, he’s going to make plays knocking people and getting out on the perimeter and getting downfield because he runs so well and he’s so athletic.
“And he’s got this nature about hitting people that we just love.”
Sweezy continues to take it all in stride. The praise. The media attention. The rapid ascension up the depth chart. That’s because he’s too busy doing what he’s doing to get caught up in all the excitement about how impressive it is that he’s doing it.
In his wildest dreams, could he have imaged this: Starting an NFL season opener at right guard, less than nine months after starting his last game at North Carolina State as a defensive tackle?
“In my wildest dreams, yes,” he said though the slightest of smiles. “I’ve just been blessed with this opportunity and I’m trying to make the best out of it. So I just continue to work every day to get better.”
And that is the bottom-line reason why Sweezy is starting. Like Wilson, he has an almost-demented approach to preparing.
“I like to believe that I got better every day,” Sweezy said. “I came in with an open mind, just going to take everything they said and do it.”
That has been one of Sweezy’s most impressive – and admirable – qualities throughout the process. If he makes a mistake, he rarely makes the same one again.
“The guys, the O-line around me, they’ve been nothing but helpful,” he said. “And I give all my credit to coach Cable. He’s a great coach, one of the best in the league. And he’s done nothing but stay on me and make me get better every day.
“So I’ve had nothing but good things to help me get to this point.”
For the record, the last time – and only time – Sweezy played on offense before coming to Seattle was as an 8-year old in Pee Wee football. How different is switching from defense to offense?
“Everything is the complete opposite,” he said. “That’s the best way to put it. On defense, you’re aggressive, you’re always coming downhill, you’re playing at an angle. On offense, if you do that you get in trouble. You get beat easy.
“So it was just a matter of learning when to use my aggressiveness and then being able to fit that into letting things happen, letting the play develop and then attack.”
Take it from a rookie who’s looked at football life from both sides now.