No matter how the competition plays out between now and the season opener, the Seahawks offensive line will look much different than it did in 2015. Gone are two starters, Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy, and two other starters, Garry Gilliam and Justin Britt, have changed positions.
But different doesn't have to be a bad thing, according to players competing for starting roles, as well as the coaches in charge of what will be a new-look line in 2016.
"Honestly I think we can be the best that I've seen since I've been here at least," said Gilliam, last year's starting right tackle, who is now playing left tackle in hopes of taking over Okung's old job. "We have great guys at every position, and even behind them, lots of competition. The ones, the twos and the threes, everyone's going to be pushing each other. We've got tons of talent, great athletes on the offensive line, so I'm really excited for it."
As Britt notes, "it's way too early to settle on a line, so everyone is still out here working, trying to earn a spot on that roster." But the Seahawks have opened every practice of camp with the same starting five, with Gilliam at left tackle, Mark Glowinski at left guard, Britt at center, first-round pick Germain Ifedi at right guard and free-agent addition J'Marcus Webb at right tackle.
Offensive line coach/assistant head coach Tom Cable pointed out that they have rotated different players into that mix within practices, and it's worth remembering that the Seahawks made significant changes to their line late in camp last year, but if that group of Gilliam, Glowinski, Britt, Ifedi and Webb ends up being the starting five, having a whole camp together could pay off when the season starts.
"That's huge," Gilliam said of line continuity. "As you saw last year, once we got the five that we needed to be out there and jelled together, we had one of the best offensive lines in the country the second half of the season. So it's very important for us to get that continuity, that chemistry to be able to flow tighter, not only as an offensive line, but as an offense. When you saw that happen last year, the offense itself took off. We can play real complementary football with our defense and special teams that way."
Added Britt: "Like any offensive line, continuity, playing with each other the whole camp, you really get to learn how one person communicates, and how they do it, and what they need help with, and what you need to pick up the slack with."
One reason Cable and company can't commit to a line now is that they haven't yet seen this group in a game, which is why preseason games will be so important for this particular position group. But one thing that has impressed Cable, especially with so many new faces in the mix, is the way the line has "transferred well from spring in terms of our learning and our retention. I love the work so far."
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has noticed the same thing.
"One of the things that I think jumped out at me coming back out here at training camp was their retention," he said. "You know, how much they have retained with the five weeks that they were off from minicamp and OTAs. So they've done a nice job with that, they've picked up at a really good spot. So I like their knowledge, like how they work together and they're working hard."
Britt, who is being asked to take on more of a leadership role as a two-year starter, has seen the same thing as his coaches, which is part of why he and his teammates are so high on the potential of this group even as most people are worried about the group's relative youth and inexperience.
"We're all trying to collectively take this group to another level," Britt said. "We have probably the smartest group we've had since I've been here. No disrespect to the other guys, but just collectively down the depth, I think this is the brightest group, and we're just trying to see how far we can take it."
Intelligence and the ability to retain new information will be particularly important for Britt if he is going to be able to hold off challenges from Patrick Lewis and Joey Hunt to win the starting job at center. A right tackle as a rookie, then a left guard last year, Britt had to learn his assignments and execute them, but now at center he has to direct the offensive line, not just worry about his own blocking assignment.
"I'm just evolving my game, understanding why we're doing this," he said. "I know the assignment and I know, if they do this, then we're doing this, but I'm really trying to understand why we're doing it so I can go out there and play without thinking and be confident within my play.
"Last year (at guard), and playing tackle, I'm used to, 'What do you got? All right I know what I got.' Because I knew the offense, but I was just listening to what the center had to say. Now I'm that guy who has to tell them, 'I've got this, so you've got this.' It's making me a better player, it's making me more confident knowing my job."
The Seahawks still have work to do to find the right combination of five linemen and get them ready for the start of the season, but early in camp, there have been encouraging signs all around.
"I just like how they're working," Cable said. "We have a lot of work to do, but they're really doing it. Every day, they're doing something a little bit better, which is cool. So we just keep grinding."
Look through the best photos from Day 4 of Seahawks training camp at Virginia Mason Athletic Center.