Line dancing

Posted Sep 29, 2010

The Seahawks got a boost on Wednesday when left tackle Russell Okung practiced for the first time after being sidelined for 5½ weeks and left guard Chester Pitts got in his first full practice in more than a year.

The Seahawks are 2-1 entering Sunday’s game against the Rams in St. Louis for a variety of feel-good reasons.

There was Leon Washington’s pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns in last week’s upset of the San Diego Chargers, when rookie free safety Earl Thomas intercepted a pair of passes in the fourth quarter; defensive end Red Bryant recovered a pair of fumbles; defensive end Chris Clemons had a pair of sacks; nickel back Roy Lewis broke up pair of passes near the goal line, on third and fourth downs; and Olindo Mare kicked a pair of 23-yard field goals, running his club-record streak to 24 in a row.

In the season-opening romp over the San Francisco 49ers, there was Matt Hasselbeck completing the highest percentage of passes in the NFL that weekend and throwing a pair of touchdown passes; the defensive getting a couple of interceptions, one each by Marcus Trufant and Jordan Babineaux; and a combination of seven hits on the quarterback from Bryant and Clemons.

Even in the Week 2 loss to the Broncos in Denver, rookie Golden Tate turned in a couple of, well, golden plays – a 63-yard punt return and a 52-yard reception.

So it was very interesting Wednesday when coach Pete Carroll offered, “Of all the things on our football team right now, I’m most excited about the potential of us improving up front.”

That would be the ever-changing offensive line.

There were two huge reasons for Carroll’s enthusiasm, and optimism: Russell Okung, the team’s 6-foot-5, 310-pound first-round draft choice; and Chester Pitts, a 6-4, 308-pound veteran who was signed during the offseason.

Okung practiced on Wednesday for the first time since getting a high sprain of his right ankle on the opening series of the second preseason game. That was Aug. 21, or 5½ weeks ago. Pitts, meanwhile, got in his first full practice since having microfracture surgery on his right knee last September while playing for the Houston Texans.

These two on-the-mend rights made for the left side of the No. 1 line in practice – as Okung stepped in at tackle, the position he was drafted to play; and Pitts was in at guard, where he made most of his 114 consecutive starts for the Texans.

There also were a couple of new parts to the unit: right tackle Breno Giacomini and left guard Allen Barbre, a pair of former Green Bay Packers who were signed on Tuesday. Their arrivals leave the Seahawks with eight of the 10 offensive linemen in their first season with the team, and five of those have been acquired since Aug. 31.

A line that not that long ago included smaller players whose forte was mobility now features a bunch of big men who know how to throw their weight around: Tyler Polumbus (6-8, 300), who has been starting for Okung; Stacy Andrews (6-7, 340), who stepped in at right guard after Max Unger went down with a season-ending injury in the opener; Chris Spencer (6-3, 309) and Sean Locklear (6-4, 310), the incumbent starters at center and right tackle; Ben Hamilton (6-5, 290), who has started the past two games at left guard; and Evan Dietrich-Smith (6-2, 308), who can play all three interior spots; as well as Okung, Pitts, Giacomini (6-7, 318) and Barbre (6-4, 300).

“We are getting bigger,” line coach Art Valero said. “The one thing about it is, coach and (general manager) John Schneider are going to turn the roster over. They want to make sure they get their kinds of guys.”

Like Okung. The Seahawks used the sixth pick in April’s draft to select a player with the potential to stabilize a position where the team used four starters last season.

The top pick did not wade back into it, either. Okung got the reps at left tackle with the starting unit, as well as the scout team that works against the Seahawks’ defense.

“We wanted him to practice and we wanted him to go play hard, and see what he had,” Valero said. “He had to test himself, and we had to test him to see exactly where he was.”

Valero conceded that Okung looked “rusty,” but that’s to be expected for a player who had five practices with the team before being sidelined for 5½ weeks.

“But it was good to see him out there,” Valero said. “All he can do is practice and get into banging shape.”

It’s the same situation for Pitts, although he has the benefit of having played in the league for seven-plus seasons. Still, coming off microfracture surgery can be arduous and confidence-sapping.

“It was just a matter of time to where he got in and got playing and got rid of the mental demons and said, ‘Hey, you know what, I am OK. I am fine. I can get my pads down. I can get a bang. I can end up on the ground and get back up,’ ” Valero said. “It’s just one of those things where there’s a confidence level for him and he’s just got to go play.

“There were times today where you could see him kind of walking around a little bit on eggshells and other times where you’re saying, ‘Whoa.’ ”

The real challenge for Okung and Pitts will be how they feel on Thursday after getting so much work on Wednesday. That’s why Carroll is hesitant to discuss how much they might play against the Rams, or if they’ll even play.

“We’re just going to take it one day at a time and see what happens – see how they look and how they endure and what happens during practice,” he said. “You know, how they feel the next day.

“We won’t know tomorrow. I don’t think we’ll know Friday. We’ll have to go all the way to Saturday and see how the week wears on (them). So we’ll just wait it out.”

As for the two newest linemen, the wait will be longer because they’ll be in catch-up mode for awhile. Or as Valero put it, “We’re speaking English and they’re speaking French.”

So why was the suddenly bilingual Valero smiling? All this change – even if it has spiked Carroll’s enthusiasm – was just another day at the office for him.

“Every day,” he said, “is an interesting day.”