Yesterday the Seahawks announced they would be starting J.R. Sweezy at right guard over incumbent John Moffitt, their 3rd round pick in 2011. In case anyone was unclear about Pete Caroll’s ideas on competition at every position, this should clear things up. After all, this decision puts a rookie picked in the 7th round, who hasn’t played offensive line at a competitive level in his entire life, in to replace a returning starter. Any spot on this Seahawks team is open to someone who comes in and earns it. It’s a reasonable attitude to have when building a young team from the ground up and Carroll hopes it will result in him uncovering some hidden gems the way he has with players like Kam Chancellor or Doug Baldwin. Even with that in mind, how exactly does a man playing defensive tackle for North Carolina State only months ago wind up starting at guard for our Seattle Seahawks?
Apparently it began with Tom Cable himself journeying to North Carolina State to scout Sweezy and see if he was worth converting to offensive line. Considering the amount of college players actually playing the guard position it seems odd that they would put so much time into examining conversion candidates. However, with Cable’s zone-blocking scheme he looks for players that have a different skillset than traditional offensive lineman. The Seahawks generally look for linemen who are quick and agile, even at the expense of some bulk. With a specific and rare athletic profile in mind, it is not altogether surprising Pete Carroll has to explore unconventional means to find the players he needs for his offensive line. At this point it is fairly clear that Carroll is willing think outside the box. In his tenure he has acquired players from the CFL (Browner) and players years removed from the NFL (T.O, Mike Williams) as well as converted players to positions he felt suited them better (Red Bryant, J.R. Sweezy).
Now that we’ve established why Pete Carroll would be willing to look at someone who had never played offensive line, let’s examine the athletic tools Sweezy has at his disposal that makes him so intriguing. A good way to do this is to compare his Combine numbers to the man he’s replacing, John Moffit, who put up numbers more typical of an NFL guard. The comparison is in the table below:
40 yard dash
3 Cone Drill
20 yard shuffle
Although there is more to offensive line play than straight line speed and athleticism, Sweezy does beat Moffit handily across the board in these areas. Moffitt did complete more reps on the bench press but this isn’t at all surprising considering he has 20+ pounds on Sweezy. This comparison isn’t meant to call out Moffitt, who definitely can play guard at the NFL level, but rather to highlight Sweezy’s potential. Sweezy is not without fault physically, his raw strength is below average for the position and he is a bit undersized at 6-5 and a hair under 300 pounds. Luckily for Sweezy, his only true weaknesses are strength, size and experience and all three of those can be worked on over time. What you can’t do is teach a man that size the explosion it takes to jump like a wide receiver and run like a tight end (Sweezy was clocked as low as 4.84 at his Pro Day).
With J.R. Sweezy I think the Seahawks front office knew that they were getting a high-upside player who was potentially going to be a steal. What I doubt they knew is that Sweezy was going to work like a madman at his craft and pick up the offense quickly enough to be ready to start at the NFL level by Week 1. If anyone other than J.R. himself says they knew that I am fully prepared to call them a liar. When he was drafted, Sweezy had the look of an intriguing developmental prospect but he has arrived faster than anyone could have reasonably anticipated. Every training camp there is a story of someone overcoming odds to make the team or the starting lineup and this year Sweezy has to be that story. I understand the Russell Wilson’s ascension to the starting quarterback role is exceptionally important and impressive but in terms of sheer improbability Sweezy has to take the cake. I know that there is a lot to watch this coming Sunday but if you get the chance be sure to take a second to observe your right guard because he’s one heck of a story.