Embracing the moment

Posted May 2, 2011

The Seahawks’ selection of James Carpenter in the first round of the NFL Draft has been labeled a “reach,” but it turned out to be more of a stretch when it came time to greet the tackle from Alabama.

The verdict from the “experts” is in, and it’s almost unanimous: The Seahawks “reached” in selecting James Carpenter in the first round of the NFL Draft.

At least that’s what everyone from ESPN’s Mel Kiper, to Pro Football Weekly’s Nolan Narocki, to ESPN’s Trent Dilfer had to say about the decision to take the tackle from Alabama with the 25th pick in the first round.

Actually, it was more of a stretch, because that’s what general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll had to do while embracing the 6-foot-4, 321-pound Carpenter at his introductory news conference Saturday morning.

The thing that stood out most about Carpenter was not his height, weight or even the dreadlocks that framed his smiling face. It was how thick he is. Tough-to-get-your-arms-around thick.

“A big, massive guy,” was the suitable description offered by first-year line coach Tom Cable.

But back to the “reach” reaction, which was based on most pundits projecting Carpenter as a second-round prospect. Not included in that group were the Pittsburgh Steelers, who also liked Carpenter but opted for Ohio State defensive Cameron Heyward with the 31st pick; the Green Bay Packers, who selected Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod at No. 32 when Carpenter was off the board; and the Buffalo Bills, who were targeting Carpenter with the second pick in the second round.

Also in the group, obviously, were the Seahawks – who realized they could not risk trading back if they wanted the highest-rated player on their board at a need position.

“We think we have found guys that have fit what we’re looking for, and we really don’t care what anybody else thinks,” Carroll said of the team’s draft class in general, but a statement that fits Carpenter much better than the Seahawks cap he was sporting.

As Cable put it, “James was a guy I thought from Day One gave us the most in terms of his ability to play all four spots. … I think we upgraded ourselves in terms of toughness and getting some mass on the offensive line, which I think we needed to do.”

And what Cable thinks was a key component in this draft. Unlike his predecessor – Alex Gibbs, who preferred smaller linemen – Cable thinks big. And massive. And tough. And powerful. And tenacious. That’s why the Seahawks also used their second pick on a lineman: Wisconsin guard John Moffitt.

Carpenter and Moffitt are expected to form the right side of a line that also will include Russell Okung, last year’s top draft choice, at left tackle; Max Unger, a second-round pick in 2009, at center; and a yet-to-determined player at left guard.

“I’m extremely pleased,” Cable said after getting two building blocks with the first two picks. “We went after, as you can tell, the opportunity to try and restructure this offensive line a little bit. We wanted to go up in size; we’ve done that. We wanted to get some more athletes, some mass and some power.

“I think both guys bring an attitude that fits what we’re looking for – extremely competitive guys, and guys who were both leaders on their team.”

When Carpenter made the trip from Georgia to Seattle over the weekend, he brought his parents – James Sr., a retired pulp mill worker; and Geraldine.

It was Geraldine who offered some insight into how her son was able to grow into the player who grew on the Seahawks as they progressed through the draft process: Carpenter weighed 10 pounds when he was born on March 22, 1989, in Augusta, Ga.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” James Sr. said. “I used to let them play football in the front yard and back yard. I didn’t know they were going to take it to heart. That’s what actually happened, he started playing basketball and football on his own.

“This is what happened.”

Basketball? Yes, and Carpenter can dunk.

But it was no slam-dunk that he would end up at Alabama. Carpenter actually committed to Iowa State coming out of Hephzibah High School, but ended up at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College for two years because he was academically ineligible. Carpenter then opted for the Crimson Tide because, as he put it, “I wanted to win.”

He did just that, on and off the field. Carpenter already has graduated, and now he’s a first-round draft choice. Talk about a win-win situation.

While the selection surprised Alabama coach Nick Saban, he was happy to see Carpenter’s hard work and dedication rewarded.

“James really played well for us in his two years and really developed nicely and made a tremendous amount of improvement,” Saban told a website that covers the Crimson Tide after the Seahawks selected Carpenter.

“I know people really like his athleticism. They like the fact he can play guard and tackle. He had a great Senior Bowl, and I think that sort of catapulted him up the charts in the draft and we’re extremely happy to see him get picked where he did.”

So were the Seahawks, regardless of how anyone else viewed the selection.