With left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy leaving in free agency this offseason, the Seahawks have holes to fill along their offensive line. But where some see cause for concern, Pete Carroll sees opportunity for other players to shine, and the Seahawks coach is optimistic about the pieces Seattle has in place to fill those spots.
Talking to reporters at the NFL annual meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, Carroll was positive about his team's future on the line, particularly at left tackle. As general manager John Schneider said a day earlier, the plan as of now would be for Garry Gilliam, last year's starting right tackle, to compete with free agent Bradley Sowell for that spot, though nothing is close to being set in stone at this point.
"I think we are in good shape," Carroll said, via the Seattle Times. "It's very fortunate that we have Garry Gilliam. The combination of the fact that he played this year and did a good job, he gained the starter's mentality and all that, we think we have an athlete who is really equipped to play that spot. But we are going to have to go to camp and see how that works out. We'll have the flexibility to see how Brad looks there. We could also do J'Marcus (Webb) there if we have to and Garry could stay on the right side, so we'll figure that out when we get to camp and get our hands on the guys.
In particular, Carroll seemed excited about the possibility of Gilliam as a left tackle prospect. A former tight end at Penn State, Gilliam joined the Seahawks as an undrafted rookie in 2014, then won the starting job at right tackle in camp last year.
"Garry Gilliam, he's a tremendous prospect to be a left tackle also," Carroll said. "I think you guys are real concerned about this spot—we're really not. We're excited to see how it turns out. But we have good viable guys to take a shot, and we'll see how Terry Poole can do too at the right tackle spot to give us four guys who really can mix it. We have to figure it out as we go, but I've never been worried about that. But we just want it to happen quickly and get the thing situated as quickly as we can. No timeline on that but that will be one of our concerns as we go through."
As for the opening at right guard, Mark Glowinski, who started one game in place of an injured Sweezy last year, appears to be the leading candidate to win that job as of now, but again, a lot can happen between now and September.
"We are really counting on Mark to be a player," Carroll said. "We loved what he did when he finally had his chance to start and we saw him in practices. He's a real tough guy, totally gets it. We think he's a natural guard. It was part of the understanding that if we lost Sweezy he would have a chance to step up and we are excited about what he can do. He looked really good when he played against the Cardinals and showed us I think the future that he can play for us and be a big factor.''
Carroll also said the plan is to keep Justin Britt at left guard, though they do like the former starting right tackle's flexibility should they need to call on it.
"He gives us flexibility in that he can play both spots, if we need him to play tackle he can play tackle," Carroll said. "But I think he is just going to continue grow as a guard. He did a nice job in the running game. He needs to improve in pass protection, principles and stuff. But we are counting on him to really come through for us. We think those guards (Glowinski and Britt) give us a really secure spot with big upside."
Other notes from Carroll's session with the media:
Frank Clark "is going to be a premier rusher"
Carroll reiterated some of what John Schneider said Tuesday about filling the void left by Bruce Irivn's departure. As Carroll and Schneider have both pointed out, replacing Irvin's production will likely end up falling on multiple players because Irvin played both strongside linebacker and defensive end. In particular, Carroll mentioned Mike Morgan and Cassius Marsh as possibilities at strongside linebacker, and Frank Clark as someone who will take on a bigger role rushing the passer.
"Frank Clark is going to really help us," Carroll said. "We think he is going to be a premier rusher, he showed that last year. So losing Bruce as an outside guy on the right side really opens up the opportunity for Frank to step up and do some good things for us. But there may not be one guy that we have to load up the SAM backer spot and also play there. Mike Morgan did really well for us when he played there last year at the SAM spot, but he's not going to be the third-down rusher so it might be a combination of guys playing… We're going to play Cassius Marsh at SAM backer some and see how he does there and he can also double as a third-down rusher too."
Paul Richardson is "in great shape"
Receiver Paul Richardson, Seattle's first pick in the 2014 draft, suffered a knee injury in the playoffs during his rookie season, then after coming back midway through 2015, Richardson went down with a season-ending hamstring injury in his first game back.
Despite those injuries, Carroll and the Seahawks have high hopes for a now-healthy Richardson going forward.
"He's in great shape," Carroll said. "He just had to overcome a severe hamstring, but he's ready to go. That's an exciting part of our game. He was really coming on, we all saw him starting to emerge and then he got banged up again. But hopefully he'll just be able to have a good, steady process of adding to the team. He's a deep threat. He's a great catcher. He's a route runner, so it's kind of like we pick up a whole bonus guy coming to us and really high expectations for him coming in."
Carroll is excited about Jimmy Graham's future with Seattle
After the Seahawks traded a first-round pick and center Max Unger for Jimmy Graham and a fourth-round pick, expectations in Seattle were understandably high for the All-Pro tight end. And while Graham didn't put up monster numbers, he was productive in Seattle's offense before going down with a knee injury 11 games into the season, catching 48 passes for 605 yards and two touchdowns (for updates on the status of Graham and running back Thomas Rawls, click here). And while the Seahawks see Graham being an even bigger part of their offense as he and quarterback Russell Wilson grow together, Carroll doesn't see a need to come up with more ways to get Graham the ball in 2016.
"We don't have to do that," Carroll said. "I know that seems like the focus—he had 50 catches and he was off to a marvelous start with us. We wanted to get him the ball in the red zone more. We didn't do as good of a job there as we thought, by the time he played eight games with us, whatever it was, we would have thought he'd have more touchdown catches. So that was part of maybe developing his impact with our team. But it was just a matter of timing, he and Russell being together and executing better, both of those guys doing better to function at a higher level. That's just the natural progression of developing a rapport with a player, particularly of this style. He's an extraordinary athlete, an extraordinary player. He cares as much as any player we have ever coached. And he was willing to work at it, and so was Russell, so it was just a matter of time before they would hit like Russell did with Doug (Baldwin) last year. That was a great illustration of what chemistry is all about for a quarterback and a receiver, and I think that was on the way. It's going to happen. We felt we saw all of the examples of that that we needed to see."