Rookie guard J.R. Sweezy making most of second chance

Posted Dec 29, 2012

J.R. Sweezy, a defensive lineman in college, got a baptism by blowtorch when he started at guard in the Seahawks’ season opener. But he has returned to the lineup more confident and obviously better.

The Seahawks’ offensive linemen have been rocking T-shirts all season that read, “It’s not easy being Sweezy.”

But they might need new ones, because things have become somewhat easier for rookie J.R. Sweezy during his second stint as the starter at right guard. The difference between the J.R. Sweezy who started the season opener against the Cardinals in Arizona way back in September and the J.R. Sweezy who started last week’s game against the San Francisco 49ers and will start Sunday’s regular-season finale against the St. Louis Rams at CenturyLink Field is, well, as Sweezy puts it, “Night and day.”

And it’s more than understandable. Remember, last season Sweezy was a defensive lineman at North Carolina State. Now, he’s part of a line that has helped the Seahawks average 161.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks second in the league; and put up 42 points on the NFC West-leading 49ers, who came into the game allowing a league-low average of 15.6.

“It’s a cool story, to go from Week 1 and have all those struggles, and really it’s just experience,” said Tom Cable, the offensive line coach and assistant head coach. “It wasn’t because he can’t or didn’t want to, but he figured out along the way how to. It showed.”

In the opener in Arizona, the Cardinals’ defense threw looks at Sweezy that he had not seen in training camp or the preseason.

“It’s amazing I was in a position to play before,” he said. “Because now, knowing so much more, knowing the offense so much better, I look back at that film and I’m like, ‘Man, if I only knew what I know now.’ It’s a world of difference.”

Just like it was in the opener.

“It wasn’t so much the physical part of it, I could handle that,” Sweezy said. “It was when people starting moving and stuff; I didn’t really understand which one to work to. And now I do. So it makes a lot more sense now.”  

It’s not uncommon for a young lineman to slip into a funk after such a situation. But Sweezy has proved once again that he’s anything but common.

“You worry about that,” Cable said. “In our world, you don’t want to fry their brains. Because you can, and that’s the confidence thing.  But he never wavered and that’s a real credit to him. He never flinched, and that’s what you want.”

It was Cable who made the trip to NC State before the NFL Draft in April to make sure Sweezy was the player they wanted to make such a drastic transition. It was Cable who gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the idea. It’s Cable who has brought Sweezy along at a pace that has allowed him to step back in as a starter, rather than fall into the abyss of crushed confidence.

“You’ve asked the question, ‘Why him?’ And, ‘Why a D-lineman?’ Because of that characteristic,” Cable said. “I think that stands out to me more than anything – he’s so tough mentally. He accepted his failures, but he grew from them.

“Then when he started playing again, you could just see it coming and coming. And then last week, he was really good.”

The view from the center position confirms everything Cable has noticed.

“J.R. has grown leaps and bounds this year,” said Max Unger, the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl center who started at right guard in his first season. “Physically, he’s playing better than I was my rookie year. No question.

“It’s just a matter of figuring out the concepts and the awareness of playing O-line. We’ve all done that our whole lives. He’s obviously never done that. So he’s done a great job of grasping those concepts and developing that awareness.”

Sweezy had rotated with John Moffitt in the previous two games, and they continued to share reps in practice last week. Still, Sweezy didn’t find out he was starting until Sunday.

“I got the call. So I stepped up,” Sweezy said. “We were both prepared, so it wasn’t a big shock.”

After what he went through in his first NFL start, and the progression he has shown to work his way back into the lineup, the shocking part seems to behind Sweezy.

So it’s becoming easier to be Sweezy? “It is,” Unger said with a smile.