News broke yesterday that starting right tackle Justin Britt will be a game-time decision for the Seahawks due to a knee injury suffered in the win over Carolina last weekend. In his place, Alvin Bailey has taken the snaps at right tackle and would be in line to start should Britt be unable to go. Nobody wants to see a starting lineman miss the NFC Championship, but Bailey has already proven this stage is not too big for the Seahawks heaviest lineman.
Bailey was not taken in the 2013 NFL draft out of the University of Arkansas where he played both guard positions. Seattle signed him as a free agent and put him to work along the offensive line. Bailey initially played guard, as he had in college, but his true value did not emerge until Tom Cable started cross-training him at tackle.
Bailey is only 6’3″ tall, which is fine for a guard, but short for a tackle. Teams tend to value length in their tackles to help reach and redirect fast edge rushers. Guards have less need for that attribute as all the warfare happens in close quarters. It turns out that Bailey has long arms for someone of his height.
Russell Okung is 6’5″ and has 36″ arms. Bailey has 34 3/4″ arms. That is longer than Britt (33 1/2″) despite being three inches shorter. Having physical traits is only part of the battle. Bailey also flashed uncommon balance and footwork for a man of his size.
He is rarely beaten in 1v1 pass rushing drills when playing tackle. It was Britt who struggled mightily against players like Cliff Avril in those situations during camp. Bailey has a knack for staying centered while sliding that, when combined with his hefty 350-pound frame, makes it hard for defensive ends to get him off-balance. His quickness and arm length help combat the speed rush. It often looks easy for him. That is uncommon for early round draft picks. It is nearly unprecedented for an undrafted guard.
Playing both guard positions in college gave Bailey a head start when he arrived at Seahawks camp. Cable wants all his lineman to play at least two positions to help with depth. His ability to play either tackle position as well made him a unicorn of sorts. Add up all the players in the NFL that can play either tackle position and either guard position and you may not use all the fingers on one hand. Oh, and he plays tight end as well.
This is not just potential. Bailey has played all of those positions in games over his first two seasons. He has made two starts this year at left tackle and three starts at left guard. He had a positive pass-blocking grade from ProFootballFocus.com in every start except one, and that game was the first start for Patrick Lewis at center which did not help. They gave him a +2.9 grade in his last start playing left tackle against Arizona, the second best score for any player on the line in a game the team piled up nearly 600 yards of offense.
If he sounds too good to be true, that is because he does have some shortcomings. James Carpenter struggled with his weight for three years before finally reporting into camp ready to play sixty minutes of football. Bailey has similar challenges, as his weight has gone from 320 lbs up to a reported 350 lbs this year.
Carpenter struggled, and still does at times, to move quickly enough in pass protection and keep his balance. Bailey has had more trouble with run blocking. Most massive men have an easier time using their weight in the run game. It is yet another oxymoron for a lineman who seems to be defined by his unconventional makeup.
Seattle trailed the hated 49ers 10-3 at halftime of the NFC Championship last year. On their first drive of the second half, they made extensive use of a heavy package that included Bailey as a tackle eligible to receive, essentially a big tight end. It was a statement of determination and confidence that the Seahawks were simply going to outmuscle the bullies from the Bay.
It was Bailey who sprung Marshawn Lynch on downfield block that helped turn a first down into a 40-yard touchdown that tied the game. Lynch went on to find more running room that half and helped the Seahawks to a historic victory.
Britt had a strong game against Julius Peppers and the Packers in his first career start. He is a far superior run blocker at right tackle, which is a big part of why he starts over Bailey. Most line coaches around the NFL will choose a superior pass-blocking tackle over a better run blocker, but not Cable.
He wants to run the ball down opponents throats, and will sacrifice pass pressure in order to do it. Bailey gets most of his tackle snaps on the left side, so it is harder to say how he projects on the right side, but he should be an improvement over Britt in pass protection if called upon to start.
The ideal would be to have Britt available, and allow one of the NFL’s most versatile lineman to return to his role as an extra tight end and depth behind almost every position. But do not fear the possibility of Bailey being asked to step forward in the NFC Championship against a tough foe. He has done it before.