You have to forgive John Schneider and the Seahawks if they got a little jumpy in this draft, locking in on tackle Justin Britt in the second round.
After all, the team has considered tackle its biggest need for two straight years now and didn’t want to get burned again.
The Seahawks got shut out of tackles early in the 2013 draft and ended up scrambling to find some in the seventh round. They got lucky with Michael Bowie and undrafted Alvin Bailey (rated as a fifth-round talent by some analysts), but after losing starting right tackle Breno Giacomini in free agency this year they knew they needed to draft a guy to compete with Bowie.
Schneider admitted that the Hawks grabbed Missouri's Britt -- who was considered more of a mid-round prospect -- with the last pick in the second round because (a) they really needed help at tackle, (b) they didn't have a third-round pick and (c) they knew he would not last until the fourth round.
“I felt like because we weren’t going to pick in the third we needed to grab our highest-rated tackle at the time,” he told KJR. “There was some consternation in my mind at the time because you don’t want to be drafting for need but you have to be cognizant of it as well.”
Schneider said the Hawks knew a run on tackles was coming in the third round, and it proved to be true when Washington took Virginia's Morgan Moses with the second pick and Miami grabbed Billy Turner of North Dakota State with the next selection. A total of 11 offensive linemen were drafted among the 36 picks in the third round.
"We knew we were going to go a whole round without taking a player, and we had a good feeling there was going to be some tackles going," Schneider told 710 ESPN. "(Britt) was our next-highest-rated player anyway. We were like, 'Let's not mess around.'"
Basically, the Hawks found themselves in the same spot other teams put themselves in last year when, as line coach Tom Cable said after that draft, "People got nervous, so they overdrafted the offensive line."
Schneider's Hawks have had a tough time hitting on offensive linemen in the draft, which explains why it remains a big need even though Seattle had drafted seven big men over the previous four drafts. They added two in this one: Britt and sixth-round tackle Garrett Scott of Marshall.
Schneider said the Seahawks focused heavily on the mental makeup of their draft prospects this year, and, while he didn’t say it, their failures on the offensive line surely played a heavy role.
Their top two picks in 2011, James Carpenter and John Moffitt, have been busts. Before the Hawks traded Moffitt to Denver in August 2013, Cable lamented Moffitt's lack of competitiveness -- and it turned out to be prophetic as Moffitt quit football two months after being traded. Schneider obviously doesn’t want any more Moffitts.
Britt is more like the guy he aims to replace -- and not just because he wears the same No. 68 as Giacomini.
Cable called Britt "an ornery, mean guy that plays the game the right way" and said he would challenge Bowie for the starting right tackle spot.
"With the departure of Breno Giacomini," Cable said, "filling that need and then creating the right competition so that we get a good player at right tackle (was important), and this worked out perfectly.”
ARE OKUNG'S DAYS NUMBERED?
With left tackle Russell Okung recuperating from foot surgery, Bailey will get the first-team reps in minicamps and Scott will work at left tackle as well. They might be auditioning to replace him as soon as 2015.
The Hawks reportedly went into the draft looking to add multiple tackles, with the thought that they might not end up keeping Okung when his deal is up.
If Okung doesn't have a healthy, productive 2014 season, it's easy to see the Hawks making him take a pay cut to stay in 2015, when he is due $5 million in the last year of his rookie contract.
If he is healthy in 2014 and has a second Pro Bowl season, the Hawks might be smart to try to trade him for a first-round pick next year rather than try to shoehorn a contract extension in among the big deals for Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Percy Harvin, et al.
Bailey was the line's sixth man late last season and did well in the playoffs playing next to Okung.
"It gives Alvin Bailey great opportunity for real quality reps with the first group, and it’ll help other guys with opportunities as well," coach Pete Carroll said. "Russell will be fine, and it’s something that we had to do after the season was over. He had a few things and so we’ve taken care of it. We know we’ll have him back for training camp, but maybe sooner than that.”
But for how long?
Cable said Bailey is first up to take the role of utility lineman. Paul McQuistan struggled replacing Okung at left tackle last season, and the Hawks let him go because they felt Bailey could handle it.
"That would be a real opportunity for him," Cable said. "The nice thing about Alvin and Mike Bowie is they have so much versatility. I think, other than playing center, both guys could probably play the other four spots. So I feel good about that.”
Cable said he does not see Britt as an NFL left tackle, even though Britt played left tackle at Missouri last season, but the coach said the second-round pick can play either guard spot.
Scott will work at left tackle but could be an option at guard as well.
"We like the shot of him playing left tackle," Carroll said, "because he’s done it and it’s a difficult spot to find. He looked very comfortable there. Really has the kind of quickness and light-on-his-feet ability that gives us the thought that he could do that."
Of course, the loser of the Britt-Bowie battle at right tackle could end up in the mix on the left side -- either replacing Okung or challenging Carpenter.
Bottom line: The Hawks want Bailey, Bowie, Britt and Scott working at tackle, but they also feel any of them can play guard.
Last month, Carpenter posted a workout picture and said, "Feeling blessed, healthy and light in the 320s."
The Seahawks smartly declined to pick up his 2015 option, which would have cost the team $7.438 million.
But Cable thinks Carpenter -- who battled knee problems for two years -- is ready to finally be the player they envisioned when they drafted him 25th overall in 2011.
It might be damning with faint praise, but Cable said Carpenter played his best football as a Seahawk during the playoffs.
Cable said Carpenter "seems to be completely through the injury, has got his weight under control, his work ethic has really come on, he smiles every day – so there’s a peacefulness about that big guy that I start to see why we took him. He’s healthy and I think that’s really key when you’re a big person -- feeling good about your legs and your body. I’m excited for James. I think it’s going to be a really cool year.”
With Bailey filling in at left tackle, Carpenter will get a chance to firmly grasp the left guard spot -- assuming new additions Greg Van Roten and Stephen Schilling aren't good enough to take it from him.
Whether he starts or not in 2014, Carpenter is probably gone after the season. If he starts and plays well, some team probably will want to pay the free agent. If he doesn't play well, the Hawks won't want him back anyway.
DON'T TALK TO SCHNEIDER ABOUT REACHES
Schneider doesn't want to hear other people's opinions of his picks.
In Seattle's draft room, they have TVs turned to ESPN and NFL Network, but they listen to music rather than to the talking heads.
Schneider said former owner John Nordstrom likes to come into the draft room every year, and the GM doesn't want guests to hear people criticize Seattle's picks. "I don't want him hearing that," Schneider told 710 ESPN.
"I remember that happened with Carpenter. (Critics said) 'Whoa, this is a total reach,'" Schneider said. "Look -- for us at the time, for where we were -- he was the highest-rated player. Sorry. If you don't like 340-pound guys who can knock people off the ball, I get it. Sorry."