Seahawks offensive line coach/assistant head coach Tom Cable made a bold proclamation before the start of the 2015 season. Leading up to his team's first game, in which Seattle would start a former defensive tackle at center, a former tight end at right tackle and the previous year's right tackle at left guard, Cable said his line "might be, before it's all said and done, the best group I've had."
Cable wasn't saying that because he expected his line of Russell Okung, Justin Britt, Drew Nowak, J.R. Sweezy, and Garry Gilliam to go out and dominate from the opening snap of the season, but rather because he saw a lot of upside in a young, athletic group, hence the "before it's all said and done," part of the quote.
All isn't said and done yet, and indeed early on there have been struggles as a this new-look line finds its way, but as the Seahawks kick off the second half of the season, there are also reasons for optimism when it comes to the team's most maligned position group. Yes, the Seahawks gave up a league-worst 31-sacks through seven games, but they didn't allow one against Dallas last week—a first for the Seahawks since their Super Bowl XLVIII victory over Denver—and the running game has been showing progress for a few games, not just one.
"We're getting better," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I've been talking about the running game for a few weeks, probably three weeks now. We seem to have improved and caught stride a little bit. Tempo is better at the line of scrimmage, and it looks more like we're accustomed to. To come out last week we had the best performance protecting the passer, hopefully we can build on that. That's really important… So I'm encouraged, and looking forward to showing that again. It doesn't mean anything unless we come out and play well again. That's a very difficult, challenging front, and we'll see how we do."
Carroll, Cable and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell know that their offense will only go as far as the line allows it to, and if the line does build off the progress it showed over the past few games, then there are plenty of reasons for optimism in the second half. It's easier said than done, but if the Seahawks are better at protecting Russell Wilson and continue to run the ball well, the red zone struggles will improve, the explosive plays will increase, and most importantly, more points will be scored.
"If we put those two elements together, than that makes us the kind of offense that you've got to deal with," Carroll said. "Hopefully we can continue to find our explosive plays. That's something we've been good at it in the past. We're kind of in the middle of the pack right now, we can be better there. That'll fit off of all that."
Left tackle Russell Okung, the veteran leader of the O-line, saw the same thing as his position coach when the season started, and believed it was only a matter of time before all the little nuances that go into line play would combine with physical ability to make this a good line.
"I just knew that if we stayed the course and kept believing and really stuck to our fundamentals, we would really see progress," Okung said. "And that's what happened. Even if it's one game, any time we see that progression and keep guys off the quarterback, that's success. I know moving forward we can be even better.
"It's just the attention to detail and the focus. It takes a lot of that, that's the hardest part for young guys to understand. And also, some things that only come with experience; actually playing games, and now that we've been able to put some games together, there's some mistakes we just don't make anymore. From that point, we can start breaking some big runs and the quarterback stays clean."
Of course, it's still a pretty significant leap from showing progress to "best group I've had," so the line has plenty more room to grow in the second half of the season, but unlike early in the season when Wilson was getting pummeled and the running game was inconsistent, there are real reasons for optimism about this line and the offense as a whole. Even with Marshawn Lynch banged up earlier in the season, the Seahawks rank third in the league in rushing yards, and the passing game will only get better if the pass protection holds up going forward. The line isn't a finished product by any means, but the potential Cable saw in August is started to reveal itself on Sundays more and more frequently as Britt adjusts to playing a new position and as Gilliam grows in his first year as a starter and as the entire group gets more comfortable playing together.
"It's just nice to see our hard work coming to fruition," Gilliam said. "We've gotten better at certain things, and now it's a matter of being consistent in what we're doing. Obviously there were plays in the first half of the season before last game that we blocked very well in pass protection, made clean pockets and stuff, but it's just a matter of doing it consistently, and then in the running game, knocking people back consistently. I think we've just gotten more consistent at what we're doing. That's just a product of more reps, working together, paying more attention to the details.
"We know the potential each player has. We see it in practice, we see sparks of it in games too, so it's just a matter of doing it consistently… That confidence comes from experience, then once you get those things together and you can do it consistently, then you're being a pro. That's what we're going for and what we're trying to get to."