With every game Justin Britt plays this season, it has become increasingly clear that the third-year offensive lineman has found a home at center.
Of course, the Seahawks moved Britt to center this season hoping it would be the right fit both for him and for the offense, but no one, Britt included, was exactly how well he would take to his third position in as many years, or how long that transition would take. But four games into the season, Britt is exceeding expectations at his new position and is a big reason why Seattle's offensive line is off to a considerably better start than last season.
When Seahawks coach Pete Carroll talked last week about the play of his team's line, one of the first things he mentioned was the play of Britt.
"One of the things that's obvious is that Justin Britt has done a really good job in the middle," Carroll said. "He has been on it, he has done well in the run game and the pass game. He has done very well captaining the front and making his calls and working with Russell (Wilson) to direct and redirect protections, and that's not something we knew would happen. That's a great positive for us, and he has really embraced the position. He loves playing in there and it has worked out really well. I think it starts right there."
Offensive line coach Tom Cable has said on a few occasions that the Seahawks saw in Britt the potential to play center as far back as when they selected him in the second round of the 2014 draft, but Britt opened his NFL career at tackle, where he had played in college. After starting at right tackle as a rookie, Britt moved to left guard in 2015, then when offseason workouts began last spring, Britt was again trying a new position, playing center where he would eventually beat out last year's starter, Patrick Lewis, to win the starting job.
"The goal we had for him—and he would say the same thing—was just to find a place where he would be really successful," Cable said. "If you look at the first year, he plays every game but one, you go to the Super Bowl and he really learns how to be a pro. Then last year was very up and down, inconsistent. So with all of that, knowing what we have when he goes to center, I would say there's no doubt he has gone by what you hoped for. The cool thing for him, and for us, is that he is one of the guys that's consistently getting better and better every day."
While it may not have been a traditional path for Britt to find his best fit, those experiences at other positions are helping him now as he plays the position that asks the most out of lineman from a mental standpoint. Playing guard or tackle, Britt notes that his job was to "see what I need to see" while at center, he has to "see the whole picture." Seeing that picture is easier when he knows what things look like through the eyes of a guard and a tackle.
"I know what I'm doing without a doubt, so that makes it easier," Britt said. "It has been really exciting and enjoyable to work closer with Russ."
Cable said he has "no doubt" that Britt's past playing guard and tackle is helping him at center: "That's what you hope happens, you hope you get to draw from that, and we certainly have. The way he works at it, his intelligence and all of that has really taken this thing to a whole other level. It has really helped with Russ and the whole group, because he knows what's going on out there (at tackle), he knows what's going on in there (at guard), and he's owning it right now, so we just want to continue to grow in that."
From a physical standpoint, Britt brings tackle size and athleticism to a position that usually doesn't see that combination, giving him and the line an advantage in the middle.
"You don't see a lot of centers who move as fast as I do," Britt said. "The quicker you are inside if you use it well, it can play into your favor. I feel like I understand leverage and I understand the system and what I'm supposed to do."
Britt and the entire line know there is room for improvement, particularly in the running game. Getting first-round pick Germain Ifedi back from injury should help, as will the early-season experiences this group had facing three of the league's most talented defensive lines in the Jets, Rams and Dolphins. But four games into the season, there have been a lot of encouraging signs when it comes to the Seahawks line, and Britt has been right in the middle of that while playing his third position in as many seasons.
"I think we started the year where we left off last year for the most part, give or take a little bit here and there," Britt said. "Our communication is on it, and I don't think our protection has been better since I've been here… I think we're right where we want to be."
The Seahawks and Falcons have battled 16 times, including playoffs, since 1976, with Seattle owning 10 victories. The two teams meet again this Saturday in the Divisional Round of the playoffs at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.