Drew Nowak learned Monday morning that his competition for a starting job had been released, but even if Lemuel Jeanpierre's absence means Nowak is likely to be the Seahawks' starting center when the regular season begins on Sept. 13, he wasn't going to celebrate the news.
"He really helped my transition here," Nowak said. "If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't even be in this situation."
This situation, of course, is Nowak being in a position to be one of Seattle's most unlikely starters when the season begins. Nowak, who went undrafted out of Western Michigan in 2012, was a defensive linemen in college who was converted to guard with Jacksonville. He spent most of last season on Seattle's practice squad, playing guard at times, while at other times playing on the scout-team defense.
But when offseason workouts began, Nowak made another position change, and quickly went from a possible depth player fighting for a roster spot to somebody pushing Jeanpierre and Patrick Lewis, both of whom started games at center last season, to replace Max Unger as the starting center. Jeanpierre started the first preseason game, but in practice and in games since then, Nowak has been the starter and has shown continuous improvement, leading to Jeanpierre's release on Monday.
"Nobody's told me anything yet," Nowak said when asked about possibly starting. "So I'm just going to take this week as it comes, play as well as I can in the game, then wait and see what coach has to say about it. Hopefully good news comes from him, but I'm just going to keep trying to work hard and get better and try to earn the spot still."
Nowak might not have been promised anything, but offensive line coach Tom Cable and head coach Pete Carroll both made it pretty clear Tuesday that the starting line is likely set.
"He looks terrific to us," Carroll said of Nowak. "For how far he has come so soon, we're surprised. He's very physical, tough guy, really strong hands, seems to handle blocks of all situations very well, he's really smart. We've known him as a terrific, competitive kid last year when he gave us problems all year on service team in different positions we put him. He's got a background of excellence, a background of being a noted, really good football player, we just happened to channel it here at the center position. You really shouldn't be able to learn it that fast. It would be a surprise to most people, but he's doing very well."
For Nowak, every practice and game at center means more confidence that he can do the job. Nowak admits to being pretty lost at that position when offseason workouts began in May, but with two starts and four weeks of practice under his belt, he is closer to being ready to be an NFL starter.
"I feel like the game has slowed down a lot, it has allowed me to play faster," said Nowak, who was the MAC defensive player of the year as a senior at Western Michigan. "The more I play, the better that I get. That's what I know is going to happen if I can continue to play throughout the season. Hopefully I can keep getting the opportunity to be the guy."
As excited as the Seahawks are about Nowak's future, and as much as he has grown in a short period of time, everyone involved knows there will be a few rough patches, especially early on. Just as guard J.R. Sweezy took some time to adjust to the defense-to-offense transition as a rookie, Nowak too might struggle at times. All of that being said, however, Nowak's ability and his upside have the Seahawks feeling optimistic about their new center.
"The sky's the limit for him," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "I really believe that. I keep saying that to Tater (Quarterbacks coach Carl Smith) when we watch film. I think he is going to be a great football player for a long time at the center position. One, he is very intelligent and he has the work ethic. When you put those two things together, plus the physical ability, there's no telling. He's improved exponentially in terms of his growth from day one, from OTAs, to now. He works out, he gets out here early, and he's pumped up for practice."