During the four weeks leading up to report day, we will be breaking down each of the Seahawks positional groups as we slowly creep towards the start of training camp.
Moving back to the trenches offensively, let’s take a closer look at the interior of Seattle’s offensive line, which features an intriguing blend of experience and youth at the guard and center positions.
Projected Starters: Justin Britt, D.J. Fluker, Mike Iupati
Britt may not be considered one of the elite centers in football, but he’s been the one constant for a Seahawks offensive line that, until last year, had been plagued by roster turnover and instability. Since moving to the middle of Seattle’s line before the start of the 2016 season, he’s played in all but one of the team’s 48 regular season games and also started three playoff contests. Entering his fourth season as a starter at the position, he and tackle Duane Brown will remain the undisputed leaders for a much-improved unit.
After signing a one-year deal in March 2018, Fluker missed Seattle’s first two regular season games, but he made his presence felt immediately upon his return in Week 3. Once the bruising 340-pound found his way into the starting lineup, the Seahawks rattled off 959 rushing yards over the next six games. In the 10 regular season games he played, they rushed for over 100 yards nine times, averaged 158.5 rushing yards per contest, and scored 11 touchdowns on the ground. He also had a positive influence on pass protection, as Seattle surrendered just 2.4 sacks per game with him in the lineup and that number jumped to 4.5 per game in six games where he was out injured.
Needing a replacement for J.R. Sweezy, who departed for Arizona, Seattle basically pulled off a trade by signing Iupati in free agency. His arrival reunites the nine-year veteran with Mike Solari, who coached him during the first several seasons of his career in San Francisco, where he made three Pro Bowl squads and earned First-Team All-Pro distinction in 2012. Iupati hasn’t been back to the Pro Bowl since his first year with the Cardinals in 2015, largely due to problems staying healthy. But when in the lineup, he remains a powerful run blocker who should mesh with the Seahawks offensive scheme seamlessly.
Reserves: Ethan Pocic, Jordan Simmons, Phil Haynes, Joey Hunt, Jordan Roos, Marcus Martin, Demetrius Knox
Coming off a promising rookie season, Pocic reported to training camp with 20 pounds of additional muscle and opened last season as Seattle’s starting left guard. But he suffered an ankle injury during a Week 2 loss at Chicago, opening the door for J.R. Sweezy to take his job for the rest of the season. Aside from filling in for an injured Simmons against the 49ers later in the year, the former second-round pick out of LSU barely played during the final three months and will enter the 2019 season squarely on the roster bubble.
FILM BREAKDOWN: Could Jordan Simmons become a significant part of Seattle's future along the offensive line?
Claimed off waivers from Oakland prior to the start of the regular season, Simmons was only active for one of Seattle’s first eight games. However, when Fluker was unable to suit up against the Rams in Week 10, the Seahawks threw the second-year guard into the lineup without any prior regular season experience. It’s safe to say he surpassed expectations, as the offense kept rolling and Seattle gashed Los Angeles for 273 yards on the ground. In his two other spot starts replacing Fluker, Seattle rushed for 214 yards against Minnesota and 168 against San Francisco, with the young lineman proving he could hold his own.
As showcased by the additions of Fluker and Iupati as well as the preference for Simmons over Pocic during the middle of last season, Solari clearly covets a different type of player at the guard positions than his predecessor Tom Cable did. The 322-pound Haynes becomes just the latest example, providing the Seahawks another powerful mauler in the middle who knows how to knock defenders off the line of scrimmage. Along with packing plenty of power at the point of attack, he brings four years of starting experience in the ACC with him, which should ease his adjustments to the NFL.
The undersized 299-pound Hunt has managed to hang around since being selected by Seattle in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. After spending the entire 2017 season stuck on the practice squad, he dressed for 11 games last year and received a spot start in Britt’s place against the Cowboys in Week 3. He also saw some action late in a loss to the Chargers playing right guard as a replacement for Fluker, displaying expanded adaptability. While Pocic may be the higher draft pick with a higher ceiling, the Seahawks clearly trust Hunt and he’ll have a legitimate shot at winning the backup role behind Britt.
After dressing for seven games as an undrafted rookie in 2017, Roos didn’t make Seattle’s opening day roster out of training camp and spent the entire 2018 season developing on the practice squad. He and Martin, a former 49ers third-round pick who has battled injury issues throughout his career to this point, will both be long shots to make the team this year thanks to the additions of Iupati and Haynes. Knox will open camp on the Non-Football Injury list and unless he gets healthy in a hurry, he’s not going to have a chance to compete, which would jeopardize his odds at even being signed to the practice squad.
What to Watch: Health will be a crucial factor, especially at the guard positions. Both Fluker and Ifedi have battled their share of injuries in recent years, with Fluker missing six games in his first season with the Seahawks and Iupati missing 21 games over the past two seasons. Simmons has been injury prone dating back to his college career at USC and his season came to an abrupt end last December with a knee issue. As a potential story line to watch, Haynes will also open training camp on the physically unable to perform list with an undisclosed injury, and if he’s sidelined for several weeks, that will be a major roadblock the rookie’s development to start his NFL career.
Stat to Know: Best known previously for his run blocking, Fluker earned a 98.1 pass blocking efficiency grade from Pro Football Focus, 16th best among qualified guards.
X-Factor: If there’s a wild card in this group, it has to be Hunt, a true grinder who has evolved from a practice squad center into a versatile lineman who can play both guard spots in a pinch. Seattle hopes to see Pocic blossom after a tumultuous sophomore season and he’ll receive ample opportunities to win a roster spot, but he may no longer be a system fit now that Cable is in Oakland. If both players appear to be neck and neck in competition, the Seahawks could explore the trade market to see if a potential suitor arises for Pocic and instead keep the reliable Hunt around as insurance behind Britt.
Prediction: The experienced trio of Britt, Fluker, and Iupati stacks up favorably against other interior offensive lines in the NFC West, as long as the group stays healthy. Behind them, Pocic has seemingly fallen out of favor at the guard spots, but the Seahawks can’t go into the regular season without a serviceable backup behind Britt. Hunt could certainly handle such a role, but expect Seattle to stick with Pocic for at least one more season at his natural position. There’s a chance Seattle could choose to keep both Haynes and Simmons, especially given Fluker and Iupati’s injury history. But historically, the team hasn’t kept more than eight or nine linemen on the 53-man roster. If that holds true coming out of the preseason, Haynes would hold the upper hand over Simmons, whose lengthy injury history would likely be one of the deciding factors.