Blocking it out

Posted Aug 31, 2011

The Seahawks’ new-look and oh-so-young offensive line had its problems in last week’s loss to the Broncos, which makes Friday night’s finale against the Raiders the last preseason chance to get it right.

Tom Cable was asked about rookie right tackle James Carpenter and whether this was an ultimatum week for the Seahawks’ first-round draft choice.

The team’s assistant head coach/offensive line coach spun it into a blanket answer about his working-in-progress unit heading into Friday night’s preseason finale against the Oakland Raiders at CenturyLink Field.

“I actually think it’s an ultimatum week for the group,” Cable said, “because you don’t have any more practices games. You don’t have any more do-overs. So that’s our approach this week.”

Asked about Cable’s ultimatum assessment, coach Pete Carroll offered, “If Tom said it, I agree with it.”

Obviously, in Cable they trust when it comes to whipping the line into a cohesive unit before the Sept. 11 regular-season opener in San Francisco against the 49ers.

What he is attempting to do is no easy task. In addition to Carpenter at right tackle, third-round draft choice John Moffitt is starting at right guard. Russell Okung, last year’s first-round draft choice, will be the left tackle, but he has been sidelined since the preseason opener because of a sprained ankle. The center is Max Unger, who missed last season with a toe injury that required surgery and started more games at right guard (13) than center (three) as a rookie in 2009. At left tackle is veteran Robert Gallery, but he didn’t start practicing until Aug. 4 after being signed in free agency.

If ever there was a team that could have benefitted from the minicamps and OTA sessions that were erased by the 136-day lockout, it’s the Seahawks – who have only 16 players on the 80-man roster from the team Carroll inherited 18 months ago. If ever there was a unit that is showing the signs of that missed time, it’s the new-look O-line.

Asked about the development of Carpenter and Moffitt on the right side, as well as the other young players on the line, Cable said, “We can all see where they’re at. They’re not there yet. So how do you handle the time crunch? We talked about it from Day One. We didn’t have OTAs, minicamps, all those sort of things. But it can’t be an excuse.”

That’s why the rookies have gotten as many reps as the coaches can force feed them.

“Probably playing that group more than you normally would,” Cable said. “But we need to do. And I think Saturday was a perfect example of how much they need to continue to play and continue to grow.

“We have to do it now. We’re all in it together. We know we’ll have some bumps in the road. But we what to minimize it. Saturday, we didn’t do a good job of it.” 

The starters have had problems providing quarterback Tarvaris Jackson adequate protection in the first three games, and it was never more apparent than in the loss to the Broncos in Denver on Saturday night – when Jackson was sacked five times.

Rather than go crazy, which could prompt his players to do the same, Cable has been an island of stability in the sea of negativity generated by the line’s performance.

“We don’t panic,” he said. “We just say, ‘It ain’t good enough. Fix it.’ And the thing I told them from the beginning, ‘You’re greatest improvement will be from your biggest stutter.’ ”

Cable and Carroll have been consistent about their approach since they selected Carpenter and Moffitt with their first two picks in the April NFL Draft. They realized there would be growing pains, but they also had the mindset that they were willing to live through them for the growth the unit would show down the road.

“I think after Saturday, it’s obvious what we need to do in terms of securing the pocket,” Cable said. “But as we grow, then that will just get better.

“I don’t feel good about Saturday at all. Very disappointed. But we also can see what it is and have a chance to now go fix it and go from here. And it will be like that for a little while, but not too much longer.”

To that end, Cable kept the linemen out after the morning walk-thru on Wednesday to work on their recognition skills.

Cable also was quick to point out a fact that Carroll made after the game against the Broncos: The rookies have been dropped into the deep end of the NFL pool to see how they’ll cope.

“We have not set out to help anybody yet,” Cable said. “We want to find out really what we’re capable of, what our true weaknesses are, what our strengths are.

“You could get into a chip-game and use the tight end and do some of those things. But it’s not been a point of emphasis yet.”

So rather than help Carpenter against the likes of the Broncos’ Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, who combined for 3½ sacks, by having a fullback chip them or a using a tight end to help block them, it’s been a sink-or-swim test for the rookie.

“We need to find out really who we are and I think after Saturday, we got a pretty good idea in a negative way,” Cable said. “We know what the real weaknesses are and how to fix them. So that’s what we’ll do moving forward.”

No one felt worse about his performance than Carpenter, who blamed himself for two of the sacks. Cable said three of the five sacks the team allowed came because of miscommunication issues.

Did we mention growing pains?

“That’s the part that really kind of burns me, you know,” Cable said of those oops-plays that became sacks. “Because you make the right calls, but then the guy doesn’t get there. So it looks worse from that standpoint. But it was bad, period.”

So it can only get better, right?

“You’re going to have those days sometimes,” said Gallery – who, like Cable and tight end Zach Miller, came to the Seahawks from the Raiders.

“But the great thing about this league is you can come back, go to work the right way and play really well the next week. So just because that happened doesn’t mean that’s who we are. We come out and work to fit it and we’ll continue to do that.”

That’s definitely the case if Cable has anything to say about it, which he obviously does.

“We all have to be responsible for it,” he said. “And we will. And we’ll get it fixed.”