Switch from defense to offense is a difficult line to cross
Rookie Jared Smith is trying to make the same conversion that J.R. Sweezy did last year
Seattle Times staff reporter
RENTON – The first game of J.R. Sweezy’s career is never too far from his thoughts, and not for sentimental reasons.
Sweezy, an offensive lineman drafted in the seventh round last year, played defensive tackle at North Carolina State. But the Seahawks saw Sweezy as a better fit along the offensive line and made the conversion.
By the first game last season, against the Arizona Cardinals, Sweezy had played guard for only four months. And it showed.
On one play, quarterback Russell Wilson immediately had a defender in his face after play-action. Wilson was sacked, and Seahawks offensive tackle Breno Giacomini started yelling at Sweezy, who turned the wrong way and let the defensive lineman come through nearly untouched.
“I saw a lot of things I didn’t know were going to happen,” Sweezy said, “and I was kind of out of my element, as in not knowing what to do exactly. I feel like I’ve made great lengths to never let that happen again, because that still lives in the back of my mind. But it was good for me. I needed that to happen.
“I just wasn’t on the same page as everyone else. I just wasn’t far enough along to understand it all, especially when it was going that fast.”
Sweezy has now played and studied as an offensive lineman for a year, and he insists the game has slowed for him. The Seahawks are hoping for a similar transformation with Jared Smith, a defensive tackle from New Hampshire whom Seattle took in the seventh round. Smith has played guard and center so far.
The conversion is one that veteran offensive-line coach Tom Cable has had players make before, but it is difficult and taxing nonetheless. Cable said the first step in the process is the most basic but also the most essential: Will the guy even make the switch?
Cable said he has had players say, “No, I don’t think so, I’m going to take my chances on defense.”
Added Cable: “Really, it’s how they answer the first question. That’s where we start.”
From there, the Seahawks bring in the possible convert for a workout. The goal is simple.
“Can they adapt rather quickly in a workout by listening and giving it back to you the way you want it?” Cable said. “If they can do that simple concept, then they’ve got a chance.”
The physical tools matter, but the transformation is also mental. Imagine being wired to play straight-forward and aggressively for most of your career, then having to deconstruct that mindset at the highest level of football.
For years, Sweezy and Smith dealt mostly with smashing into the man in front of them. They were geared to be bulls and attack, but suddenly needed patience along the offensive line. In the seconds before a snap, an offensive lineman must be able to communicate with the group, focus on the snap count and then complete his blocking assignment.
“Everything I had been taught my whole life,” Sweezy said, “I pretty much had to learn the exact opposite.”
“Offense, it’s like the quarterback position, man,” he said. “You have to point things out. You have to think so much in so little time. It’s a little cloudy at first, but it’s starting to clear up a little bit.”
Sweezy is at the point now where he sees how defenses are moving and what their alignment might indicate before the snap. He spent the offseason studying film and trying to digest the position. He’s far from a finished product, but he’s more comfortable.
“Everything was just everywhere last year,” he said, “and it’s just finally slowing down so I can see it.”
Smith is still caught in the whirlwind. Sweezy has told him to be patient. Sweezy graded himself as a D or F at the start of last season but said he was around a B or C by year’s end.
Smith wants to do the same.
“For me I have a lot of high expectations, and I feel like I should know this stuff now,” he said. “But you can’t, so you just have to be patient. You have to take time, watch film and study. And I am. I’m busting. You just have to wait for that time to click.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org