Despite being among the most anonymous and mundane parts of football team, the offensive line gets a ton of attention. Seahawks fan, in particular, fixate on the line after witnessing one of the most dominating left sides in history take them all the way to the Super Bowl.

Many teams build up a line using the classic formula of a dominating left tackle (usually 6’5″+ and athletic), bulky guards over 320 lbs and a tenacious line leader at center. Alex Gibbs flew in the face of convention as he built one of the lightest and least intimidating lines in the NFL. He rose to fame when those Denver Broncos lines led to multiple Super Bowls and countless no-name 1,000+ yard rushers.
Gibbs accomplished these feats by valuing athleticism over bulk, and smarts over talent. His lines were known for giving defensive lineman fits with leg whips, cut blocks and flawless teamwork. When I look at the current Seahawks offensive line, I can’t help but wonder how it will work to mesh Gibbs’ philosophies with lineman inherited from past regimes, built largely under old-school philosophies.
My impression is that the Seahawks line is too bulky to be effective at the cut blocking that Gibbs loves. I can’t help but wonder how much the Hawks preferred Trent Williams to Russell Okung because of his drool-worthy athleticism for a tackle. Spencer seems far heavier than the classic Gibbs centers like Tom Nalen. Locklear is athletic, but quite big as well. Like I often do, I decided to go quantitative on your asses, and see how the Hawks line stacked up in height, weight and age to previous notable Gibbs’ lines.
Here’s what I found:

I picked two Broncos lines. The first, 1997, was the first of their two Super Bowl wins. The same line returned for the 1998 season. The second, 1999, was a sample of a line in transition (like the Seahawks), which I thought would give me some insight into how Gibbs likes to build a line when acquiring new players. A few things jump out. First, the championship line was old, with only one player under the age of 31. Second, they were light, weighing in at an average of only 290 lbs. They were lanky, though, with an average height of 76.5 inches (6’4.5″). When Gibbs had to replace two key members on his line, he did so with young players, not veterans. He also made the line *lighter*, dropping the average weight to a tight-endish 286.5lbs. Now, we should take into account that the average weight of NFL lineman has likely increased in the 11 years since the 1999 Broncos line, but I am old enough to remember they were tiny even by 1999 standards.
The Texans 2008 line cleared the path for Steve Slatton to run for 1,282 yards and 4.8 YPC. That group looks nothing like the Broncos lines of old. Every player is over 300 lbs, and the average age is under 26. It’s worth noting that Gibbs approved bringing over the heaviest of those Texans lineman, Chester Pitts, to play for the Hawks. That should at least tell us that Gibbs doesn’t think being light is a prerequisite to being effective in his scheme.
The Hawks line doesn’t look so bulky, too old, or too young by these standards. Now, I think the roster showing Russell Okung weighing the same 310 as Sean Locklear is suspect, but I’d bet the other weights for the other team’s lineman are equally suspect. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Broncos lineman were even lighter than what’s shown online.
This information isn’t enough for us to draw any conclusions, but it does help me feel a little less skeptical that our personnel will match up with the new scheme, especially given the Texans makeup.

4 Responses

  1. JohnDoeAt30Below

    I dunno, I've heard from all the good sources that the Hawks really wanted Okung over Williams and were astonished that he fell to them.

    They had Okung 4 to Redskins, Williams 5 to Chiefs, leaving Seattle to decide if they wanted Berry at 6 and hope for Bulaga at 20 or take Bulaga at 6, Berry would go the Browns at 7 and then we still get Thomas at 14.

    Lots of folks were – and still are – concerned about Williams' work habits and comittment.

  2. JohnDoeAt30Below

    The part I didn't make clear above was that the Hawks felt Okung was far and away the best RT available. They had him much better than Williams who, in turn, was much better than Bulaga, A Davis, Saffold or Iupati.

  3. hawkblogger

    You sound well-connected JD. 🙂 My comments about Williams/Okung are based purely on reading tone, wording and matching talent to system. Okung appears to be more of a classic mauler, while Williams is a little more agile and quick.

    Both Carroll and Schneider called Okung and Williams 1 and 1a after the draft, when there was a clear opportunity to say they preferred Russell all along. Not sure why they would do that, except to dodge the direct question of which they preferred.

    As much as I'm excited to see Earl Thomas, I still would have gone with Iupati to give us a dominating, young left side. Iupati wouldn't even need to start this season, but I'm all about lineman!

  4. JohnDoeAt30Below

    Agreed. We all know that the reason the Hawks were so strong in the years 03-07 was the O-Line.

    I think Carroll and Schneider downplayed Okung a bit after the draft to reduce pressure on him as 'the next Walt' and to try not to give his agent too much ammo for the contract talks. But no matter – he's here and will be here for a very long time. We'll see if he's better than Williams but I am certain that either one are huge improvements over what we've had since Walt got hurt. And that Herkison guy left.

    Signing Okung and Hamilton and moving Locklear back to the right side are huge steps on the path to success.