As Arizona made moves to secure long-term contracts with members of their starting offensive line in recent years, Bradley Sowell, a backup at multiple spots for the Cardinals, started to realize "you're not going to start over him unless he gets hurt," a thought that became part of the reason why he landed in Seattle as a free agent this past offseason.
"It was kind of hard to leave, honestly," Sowell, who spent the last three seasons in Arizona, told reporters Wednesday at Virginia Mason Athletic Center. "I was so comfortable there."
Add in the fact that the Seahawks were parting ways with Russell Okung, the team's longtime starter at left tackle who signed a free-agent contract with the Denver Broncos, and that meant there was a starting job open for Sowell to compete for. Solidifying a place on the Seahawks' 53-man roster was hardly a guarantee, but competing for play time on a team he had come to respect while playing for Seattle's NFC West rival was an opportunity worth taking a chance on.
"There isn't many teams I would've left for, but this is always one I felt like would've been a good team just considering all the good players they have, and they always win," Sowell said. "When I got a chance to come here they told me I'd get a chance to compete for the left tackle job. I came here, embraced it and kind of took it."
Through what he showed in training camp and preseason, Sowell won the job of protecting Russell Wilson's blind side. He became the favorite at the left tackle spot over Garry Gilliam, who was moved back to right tackle, the position he started at all last season, following an injury to J'Marcus Webb, the team's right guard in Weeks 1-3 who Seattle initially tried at right tackle. Three games into the 2016 season, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said Sowell has been "playing pretty solid" and "working hard" at owning a starting opportunity for the first time in his career.
"That's what he's been embracing right now and he's doing a good job," Carroll said. "He's playing hard, he's studying hard. He has had to make a big transition to [offensive line coach] Tom [Cable] and the style and technique that we play with, the system and all of that.
"He's right on the freaking hot corner, man, there he is. It's as hard as it gets. I think he's just continuing to gain confidence and find his consistency with what works and what he can get away with and what he can't get away with."
As Carroll alludes to with his "on the freaking hot corner" remark, the left tackle spot is typically tasked with blocking the opposing team's most athletically-gifted pass rushers. Sowell said he feels like the Seahawks offense fits him "really well" because he's "a little more athletic" than your typical lineman, a trait Cable looks for in assembling players for his zone-blocking scheme.
"I liked his effort," Cable said of what attracted Seattle to Sowell's style. "I thought he had a mentality, that toughness that would fit for us. When he played at Arizona, he played hard. I think that's such an important ingredient. Way different scheme, system and all that, so could he adapt, could he learn? He's in that process."
As Cable and Carroll both note, Sowell still has work to do in acclimating to the Seahawks' system. But both coaches have seen positive signs through 2016's first three games.
"What I'm fired up for Brad is that he continues to grow with us," said Cable. "I think that's the important thing. Sometimes it's hard when guys come from the outside, or they're young."
Added Carroll: "We see him go in and out technique-wise at times, to his old ways and stuff. That's very common. I just think he's making good progress and he's going to continue to get better here. He's been a great pick up for us and we're really fired up that he's come through like that."
This Sunday's game marks the next opportunity for Sowell to show his progress against a head coach he used to practice against every day in Arizona. New York Jets front man Todd Bowles coordinated the Cardinals defense from 2013-14, and while Sowell said he was "a little bit surprised" with how Bowles' Jets defense differs from what he went up against on a daily basis in Arizona, that level of familiarity with the opponent's approach could come in handy at a position where Carroll said the competition is still on.
"He's got to keep going," Carroll said of Sowell. "George Fant is doing a nice job. We'll have some options with other guys, too, so it's not over for him. He needs to keep feeling that because that's the truth. But he's done a wonderful job so far."
The Seahawks and Jets have played each other a total of 19 times, with Seattle winning 11. They'll meet again for Week 14 of the 2020 season at Lumen Field. Take a look back at previous matchups between the two teams.