With Seahawks training camp kicking off next week, Seahawks.com is taking a look at 10 of the most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2021 season. Today we're looking at what the addition of Gabe Jackson means for the offensive line, and tomorrow we'll focus on Seattle's Pro-Bowl duo at safety.
Heading into free agency, the Seahawks had a couple of questions when it came to their offensive line, and the starting five in particular.
Mike Iupati, a former Pro-Bowler who was a two-year starter for Seattle at left guard, announced his retirement in February, leaving one vacancy in the starting lineup, and Ethan Pocic, who took over at center in 2020 after playing multiple spots in his first three seasons, became a free agent when the new league year began.
The Seahawks were able to address both of those situations, re-signing Pocic, and in one of their bigger moves of the offseason, trading for veteran guard Gabe Jackson, a talented veteran who started 99 games in his seven seasons with the Raiders. With left tackle Duane Brown, guard Damien Lewis and right tackle Brandon Shell returning, and with top backup tackle Cedric Ogbuehi re-signing, the Seahawks came out of the spring with Jackson joining a group that was returning four starters as well as a talented swing tackle who started four games last season, and Jordan Simmons, who started six games at guard.
The question fans will have heading into 2021 is whether or not the addition of Jackson, along with retaining Ogbuehi and Pocic, are enough to get the offensive line to where it needs to be for Seattle's offense to be at its best.
Offensive lines are often unfairly maligned—it's an easy unit to blame when an offense is struggling—and that was often a case for Seattle's this offseason. Yes, Russell Wilson was sacked 47 times last year, a number any lineman would tell you was too high, but Wilson's ability to escape pressure and make things happen while scrambling causes him to take some sacks that wouldn't happen to a more traditional pocket passer who was just looking to get the ball out quickly. Wilson would, rightly, say that the tradeoff is worth it for all the big plays Seattle's offense has made on broken plays, but that style, along with the Seahawks calling of deep passes that require Wilson to hold the ball longer to take advantage of his ability to throw the deep ball—not to mention the ability of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett to make plays downfield—can lead to sack totals that don't really show how well an offensive line is pass-blocking.
Led by Duane Brown, who was the fifth-best tackle in the NFL last season according to Pro Football Focus, the Seahawks line ranked ninth in ESPN Analytics' pass-block win rate last season, and Pro Football Focus ranked Seattle's line a respectable-if-not-spectacular 14th last season. And those numbers could very well have been even better had Shell not missed five games with an ankle injury, and had Iupati missed significant time with a stinger, and had Pocic not missed two games due to a concussion.
And while just about every offensive line will deal with some injuries over the course of a season, if the Seahawks are relatively healthy, there's plenty of reason to be excited about that group heading into the season. At 35, Brown is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career and is showing no signs of slowing down; Lewis, who will move from right guard to left guard to accommodate the addition of Jackson, was a PFWA All-Rookie selection in 2020 and should only continue to improve in Year 2; Pocic, while a veteran with four years of experience under his belt, will be in just his second year as an NFL center, so he too should improve; Shell was very good when healthy and Ogbuehi proved to be a very capable replacement; and finally, Jackson, a guard known for his pass-blocking ability, adds experience, talent and toughness.
"Gabe Jackson was a really great acquisition for us to bring his experience and his toughness and his leadership to the offensive line," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said last spring.
Said Wilson, "Gabe Jackson is a spectacular football player. Watching his tape, he's tough as nails, he can do everything. I'm excited to play behind him, he's a really special player."
And even though we've so far been discussing a presumed starting five, Carroll doesn't see it as a foregone conclusion that the lineup is set. Carroll has noted on a couple of times this offseason that last year's abbreviated preparation for the season—there was no in-person offseason workout program, a late start to training camp and there were no preseason games—didn't allow Seattle to have the usual amount of competition he would have liked to see at some spots, among them the competition he'd like to see at right tackle between Shell and Ogbuehi. This year, Carroll plans on letting Ogbuehi compete for a starting spot, as well as having center Kyle Fuller push Pocic for the center job.
Those competitions, as well as the presence players like Phil Haynes, Jordon Simmons, Jamarco Jones and rookie tackle Stone Forsythe, give the Seahawks reason to be encouraged not about their starting five but with the entire position group.
"We are pleased with where we are, in particular with the depth and the competition too," Carroll said. "It's not just the guys that start... Bringing Ethan back for a second year as a potential starter, the confidence that he'll gain from that will really help him. Kyle's going to be competing with him all along as well. Simmons did a nice job for us last year, Jordan did some good things when he played, that gives us good depth there. Phil Haynes looks to be through his injury issues and he'll come into camp ready to roll and compete too. Cedric Ogbuehi, this is a guy that really has the potential to be a big-time football player. He's going to get a great chance to go with Brandon out there at the right tackle spot and compete to the finish and see who wins the job, knowing that he can also play on the other side if we need him too also, as he did last year. So we feel really good about the depth of it and the experience. As always you'd like these guys to get a good feel for one another playing together and communicate really well, and that really comes to the center spot, and we'll get great leadership from Duane, so I think it's an excellent position for us."
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