Mike Holmgren had seen enough. It was November 2002, and his precision passing offense was getting constantly disrupted due to a porous right side of his line. The Seahawks had struggled to a 4-7 record with Floyd “Porkchop” Womack as the starting right tackle, and Holmgren’s job was at risk. Then Seahawks Vice President of Football Operations, Ted Thompson, made a bold move to pick up Chris Terry who had been waived by the Carolina Panthers after he was arrested for misdemeanor domestic violence charges.
Terry was immediately inserted into the starting lineup at right tackle and the Seahawks offense took off. Matt Hasselbeck threw for over 400 yards in two of the five games Terry started. A group that had averaged 20 points per game and 318 yards of offense boosted those averages to 27 ppg and 464 ypg over the final five contests. The Seahawks won three of those games, salvaging Holmgren’s job as coach, if not as general manager. Terry never quite played to that level again for Seattle, but he had opened Holmgren’s eyes to the difference a quality pass protecting right tackle can make for an offense.
Hello, Sean Locklear
Seattle signed Terry to a big five year contract extension after his presence keyed a terrific finish to the 2002 season. Just two years later, Womack had taken over again on the right side, and Terry would never play for Seattle again. That 2004 team finished a disappointing 9-7, and as they entered training camp in 2005, they were still expecting to lean on Womack at right tackle.
A second year tackle by the name of Sean Locklear had other ideas. He won the job out of camp and started all 16 regular season games for the Seahawks, along with the three postseason contests. His pass blocking prowess on the right side, combined with Hall of Famer Walter Jones on the left side made life easier than it had ever been for Hasselbeck.
He had a career best, and then franchise-record, 98.2 passer rating to lead the NFC. He had a career low 2.0% interception rate, and career highs in yards per attempt and touchdown rate. His sack rate of 5.1% was the lowest of his Seattle career.
In fact, the 27 sacks surrendered by Seattle were the second-fewest in franchise history (1979, 23 sacks).
Goodbye, Sean Locklear
Locklear lasted far longer than Terry. He parlayed his terrific 2005 campaign into five more seasons with the team. His last season, 2010, saw the team struggle mightily. Still, they were in the middle of the pack in sacks allowed, and Locklear finished the year as the top-rated pass blocking right tackle, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Enter Tom Cable. Enter James Carpenter. Exit Locklear. The new offensive line coach, along with the front office, chose to let Locklear walk in favor of bringing in younger, more run-centric lineman. The 2010 squad had struggled mightily to establish a physical mentality. Cable was brought in to change all that, and the type of player he wanted for right tackle spoke volumes about the new priorities.
Carpenter would go on to get injured and never panned out at right tackle. He was replaced by Breno Giacomini, who ranked near the bottom of pass-blocking right tackles in the league in 2012, and was middle of the pack in 2013. Giacomini left, and was replaced by Justin Britt, who was ranked dead last in pass protection among right tackles last year, per PFF.
There has not been a single game since the departure of Locklear that the Seahawks have played someone who could hold a candle to him in pass protection…until Friday night.
It was one game. It was a preseason game. These are irrefutable truths. I also cannot deny what my eyes told me when watching Gilliam practice all week at right tackle and then play in the game; Gilliam is easily the best pass blocking right tackle the Seahawks have played since Locklear left four years ago.
He has work to do against stronger rushers. He is almost certainly not the run blocker that Britt is. Those things seem inconsequential when held up next to the possibility that Russell Wilson and his new cadre of receiving targets could have seconds more to operate in the passing game.
There is always the possibility that Cable will review the tape, completely set aside the pass blocking, and choose to go a different direction solely based on run blocking. I don’t think he will do that this time. Gilliam has the look of a player who is just getting started. Two-fifths of the Seahawks starting offensive line seems destined to come from that 2014 rookie class.
Temper your enthusiasm if you wish. I have seen enough, both of Gilliam, and of past Seahawks right tackles to know we are in for a treat.