The Seahawks waited nearly a week into the new league year to add any outside free agents to their roster, and when they signed former Arizona Cardinals tackle Bradley Sowell, it was hardly seen as a splashy move by NFL transaction standards. Yet as the Seahawks prepare for their third preseason game this week, it is become more and more evident that Sowell has a very real chance to be a big part of Seattle's 2016 offense.
Sowell, who went undrafted out of the University of Mississippi in 2012, started 12 games at left tackle for the Cardinals in 2013, but then was a backup his next two seasons behind some remarkably durable tackles, meaning Sowell never saw game action at tackle for two seasons despite being active on game days. And early in his first training camp with the Seahawks, Sowell again looked like he might be headed for a swing-tackle role as Garry Gilliam worked at left tackle with the No. 1 offense and J'Marcus Webb, another free-agent addition, was the No. 1 right tackle. Yet even as that was the most common tackle combination with first unit, offensive line coach Tom Cable and head coach Pete Carroll continually praised Sowell and how he was fitting into the offense, and after Webb was slowed with a knee injury, Sowell got his chance with the No. 1 offense, and so far is making the most of his opportunity.
After Webb went down—he has since returned to practice—Sowell started both preseason games at left tackle with Gilliam moving to right tackle, the position he played last season. And while Cable made it clear that nothing is settled when it comes to a starting line, the early reviews on Sowell have been positive.
"He fits right in, he's learning how to do our style and getting it," Cable said. "We're kind of looking for another move forward this week, but that's two pretty solid weeks for him. He can do a lot better, don't get me wrong, but for going over (to left tackle), no problems."
If Sowell is able to win a starting job with a new team after two years of backup duty in Arizona, he says it will in part because of how good of a fit Seattle's system his for his skillset.
"So far, I'm not asked to do anything that I can't do," Sowell said. "For the most part you can be really athletic in this offense and show who you are. So far they've put me in a great situation, and I just feel really comfortable… You get to run, be an athlete, you get to run your feet and just do stuff that I feel like I can do."
Sowell was complimentary of his coaches in Arizona and his time with the Cardinals, but he also acknowledged that Seattle's more balanced offense is a better fit for him than a pass-first system.
"It was more passing, drop-back pass a lot more with Carson (Palmer)," Sowell said. "And Carson stays in the same spot, so most teams don't really honor the run with him. We have Russ who can run, it's just a really good fit."
Another reason Sowell likes the fit here is the coaching he is getting from Cable.
"He's really good," he said. "I've had some really good coaches in the past, but I'm getting a new set of eyes. He's really good at instilling confidence in you and making sure you know what to do on every play. So far, I've loved him as a coach and I'm excited to keep working with him."
One thing that is a new challenge for Sowell, and for any lineman new to Seattle for that matter, is adjusting to a quarterback who can keep plays alive for as long as Russell Wilson sometimes does. When blocking for a more conventional, drop-back passer such as Palmer, linemen have a pretty good idea of how long they need to block before the ball will be out. That's not always the case with Wilson.
"You've got to hold it just a little bit longer, because you know he's going to make plays with his feet," Sowell said. "I'll get used to that as we get going… It's harder to figure out where he's going to be, but he'll make plays, so it's good and bad."
The best advice Sowell has received from his teammates when it comes to blocking for Wilson when a play breaks down? "Just hang on. Hang on as long as you can, finish and hit somebody."
With Webb working his way back to full speed, Cable noted that the Seahawks need to look at different tackle combination before deciding on starters. Both Webb and Sowell can play on both sides, while Webb has only worked at right tackle, so there several different ways Seattle could do things with those three players, but regardless of how things shake out, Sowell is getting a good opportunity and so far he is making the most of it.
"He has picked everything up, he's a bright player," Carroll said last week. "He's played with a really good mentality, he's aggressive, he finishes plays. You can see that he has been coached well in the past. Now it's just a matter of just the test, see how he stands to the challenges of the really good players."
The Seahawks held practice on Monday at Virginia Mason Athletic Center to prepare for their third preseason game.