Rest Up, Russell

Defensive backs take part of their traditional pregame huddle before taking the field for warmups.
Rumor has it that John Schneider and Pete Carroll love Russell Wilson so much, they decided to double up on Russells and Wilsons on offense. They are down to just one Russell after their Pro Bowl left tackle was placed on IR yesterday. It is a story not unfamiliar to fans, coaches or teammates. Okung has missed 11 games in his first three seasons due to injury after never missing a game in college. An injury to a left tackle is usually cause for panic, but recent history and new talent gives reason for confidence.

History and Tom Cable

Things were much worse in 2011 when Okung missed the final four games of the season after a cheap shot from Trent Cole of Philadelphia. The line was also missing two other starters as John Moffitt and James Carpenter were injured. Paul McQuistan moved over to left tackle, Breno Giacomini stepped in at right tackle and Lemuel Juanpierre played at right guard. Robert Gallery played, but was on the doorstep of retirement. The team had righted itself after a dismal start, and had won three of four when Okung went out.

They went on to win the next two games, including a road game in Chicago, and then dropped a 19-17 contest to division champion San Francisco. The 49ers were playing their best defense that year, but it was in that game, without Okung and the rest, that they gave up their first 100 yard rusher and first rushing touchdown of the year. San Francisco was a handful in the pass rush last week with nearly everyone healthy on the line. Try to imagine facing that defense with Gallery and Juanpierre at guard and McQuistan at left tackle. The Seattle offense did better in that rematch than they had done in the first game that year. In fact, the offense did just fine without Okung that year.

Seattle scored more without Okung in those four games, passed at the same rate and rushed for significantly more yards. Tom Cable has shown he can game plan for injuries on the line better than most. Okung missed one game last season against the Cowboys, forcing Frank Omiyale into the lineup against DeMarcus Ware. One of the best pass rushers of this generation was held without a sack and just one quarterback hit. The team rushed for over 180 yards and helped Russell Wilson to his first game with a passer rating over 100.0.

An injury to Okung tends to lead the coaching staff down the path of an even heavier emphasis on the run game, and extra protection on throws. They become a little more deliberate, and a little less ambitious. This line is also better than the ones Cable has had to make do with in the past.

The Young Guns

Omiyale and McQuistan were the only two backups for Okung last season. Had this injury happened last year, the overall ceiling for the season would have been lowered. Schneider and Cable worked some magic this off-season, though, and added two promising young tackles in Alvin Bailey and Michael Bowie.
The public sentiments from Cable and Carroll have been more glowing on Bowie, but he did not take a snap at left tackle during camp or during pre-season that I saw. Bailey unseated Mike Person as the backup left tackle and was almost flawless in pass protection. I watched a lot of Bailey during camp, and he earned my Best Rookie On Offense award. Nobody beat this guy in pass protection. Not in team drills. Not in 1v1 pass rush drills. Not in 2v2 pass rush drills. Nobody. He was so good that he clouded my ability to judge Benson Mayowa because Bailey so consistently stoned him. 
His performance in pre-season games was no less encouraging. Take a look at #78 in his first live game action against the Chargers. 

Yes that was against second and third string players, but he did well in subsequent games as well against better competition. To this point, I have only seen him beat once in pass protection. He was a guard in college, so is a natural run blocker. The question mark for Bailey is one his quarterback can appreciate. At 6’3″, Bailey is exceedingly short for a tackle, let alone a left tackle. Judging by the results I saw, it may not matter

Bowie looks much more like a classic right tackle. He is thick and tall. His feet were not as impressive in pass protection, and his results were far less consistent than Bailey’s in that regard. When Cable calls you out as impressive, though, everyone should take notice.

Neither young player will start out of the gate. McQuistan will take the starting snaps, and it is possible he will keep them for the duration of Okung’s injury. More likely, we see Bailey and Bowie get rotated into the game more and more and one of them may take over the starting role in 2-4 weeks depending on how they play. I expect great things from both, but am especially eager to see how Bailey performs. This team is better equipped to handle the absence of Okung than at any time in Carroll’s tenure in Seattle, and arguably better than at any time in the last 20 years of Seahawks football. The team is certainly better off with his immense talent in the lineup, but nobody needs to brace for a massive drop-off without him.

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