A new-look line

Posted Jul 27, 2011

After five seasons of productive stability up front and then three years of constantly juggling their injury-ravaged unit, the Seahawks are going younger and bigger on their offensive line for 2011.

When Max Unger arrived as a second-round draft choice in 2009, the rookie from Oregon stepped in at right guard on a Seahawks offensive line that included Sean Locklear at left tackle, Rob Sims at right guard, Chris Spencer at center and Ray Willis at right tackle.

Sitting in front of his cubicle on Wednesday, Unger looked around a crowded locker room that included none of the above.

That’s how dramatic the change on the Seahawks’ line has been in just two seasons.

“It’s rare, definitely,” Unger said, shaking his head.

Well, he ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

By the time the Seahawks open their preseason on Aug. 11 in San Diego against the Chargers, the new starting unit is expected to include – from left tackle to right – Russell Okung, a first-round draft choice last year; Robert Gallery, the ex-Raider who reportedly agreed to sign with the team on Wednesday; Unger, in his first full season at center and after missing last season because of a toe injury; James Moffitt, the team’s third-round choice in the April NFL Draft; and James Carpenter, this year’s first-round draft pick.

That won’t be the starting unit on Thursday, when the team will take to the practice fields for a pair of walk-thru workouts to open their second training camp under coach Pete Carroll, because Gallery can’t be signed until Friday and Carpenter and Moffitt won’t report until they’ve signed their rookie contracts.

But in time, their time will come.

“As a group, we just want to get out there and run some plays,” Unger said. “We haven’t even played together yet. But we’re all looking forward to it.”

How quickly things can change in the NFL.

For years, the Seahawks had a starting line that was as seasoned as any in the league – and better than most. Left tackle Walter Jones was arguably the best to ever play his position. Left guard Steve Hutchinson was voted to three Pro Bowls in his five seasons in Seattle. Center Robbie Tobeck and right Chris Gray were savvy veterans, not to mention underrated.

Those four – along with a combination of Chris Terry and Sean Locklear at right tackle – were pivotal in the most-successful five-season run in franchise history from 2003-07.

Then came 2008, 2009 and 2010. In those three seasons, injuries forced the Seahawks to start eight different players at left tackle, nine at left guard, three at center, eight at right guard and two at right tackle. There were eight different starting combinations in 2008, seven in ’09 and 10 last season.

Now comes a youth movement intended to get the line – and the offense – headed in a more positive direction.

The Seahawks have had eight picks in the first three rounds of the past three drafts, and they’ve used four of them on linemen – Okung and Carpenter in the first round; Unger in the second; Moffitt in the third.

Youth obviously will be served this season, as Unger (17), Okung (10), Moffitt (0) and Carpenter (0) have 27 NFL starts between them.

“I’m one of the seasoned guys? Wow,” Okung said. “It’s an amazing opportunity. But things always have to start somewhere. Things always need a new beginning, and this looks like it’s going to be it.

“It’s going to come down to the coaches and the players, and I believe in the guys who are here now and we’re going to go out there and get the job done.”

That’s why the long-speculated addition of Gallery looms so large in this mix. His size (6-7, 325), experience (91 starts in seven NFL seasons) and style were a needed fit between Okung and Unger.

“Some additions have been made, with some impressive players,” quarterback Charlie Whitehurst said. “Gallery has been a good player as long as he’s been in the league. He gives you that veteran influence up there and a guy who can really lead that group. It’s a young group, so they need that.

“So it’s exciting what’s going on up front. We’ve got a bunch of big, athletic guys and I think they can definitely jell and be a big force for us this year.”

The biggest addition for this unit just might be Tom Cable, the no-nonsense former head coach of the Raiders who was hired in January to be the Seahawks’ fourth line coach in as many seasons – and the third in the past 12 months.

“Tom’s a great guy, and he’s a great coach,” Okung said of Cable, who coached the Raiders’ line before taking over as head coach during the 2008 season. “I’m just hoping we can all soak up some things from him and hopefully become the best unit on the team.”

Added Unger, “He’s awesome. He’s a helluva of an O-line coach. We’re obviously pretty optimistic. We just need to get out and do it. Not talk about it, but just go out and actually play and do it.”