Handicapping the Candidates at Center

Following OTAs this week, offensive line guru and assistant head coach Tom Cable characterized center as the position among blockers with "the most uncertainty." We break down the candidates the Seahawks will be looking at to replace Pro Bowler Max Unger in the middle and offer a prediction as to who will ultimately start Week One.

We all knew the competition was on at center once Unger was shipped to the New Orleans Saints as part of the deal to bring in All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham.

During Tuesday's OTA open to the media, we saw just how wide open the position might be with relatively unknown Drew Nowak snapping the ball to Russell Wilson amid plenty of playing time with the "ones."

"Yeah, I think [the center position has] probably got the most competition to it, Cable said following the voluntary practice. Drew [Nowak] is doing a good job, [Kristjan] Sokoli's doing a nice job, and Lem [Jeanpierre] and Patrick [Lewis] are competing their rear ends off, so when we get to camp, it should be quite a battle. But that certainly has the most uncertainty."

Was this just an audition for Nowak or is he really a candidate to start this season for the Seahawks? How does he compare to fellow rookie projects Kristjan Sokoli and Will Pericak, who also spent their collegiate days trying to sack quarterbacks rather than hike them the ball? And is the focus on the youngsters an indictment on veterans Patrick Lewis and Lemuel Jeanpierre, who seemed to do pretty well when injuries to Unger in the past pushed them into duty?

The Pretenders

First off, let's focus on the relative unknowns in the rookies Nowak, Sokoli and Pericak. And before, you just cast off the idea of a rookie center starting for an obvious Super Bowl contender, remember that the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers trotted out first-year snappers Bryan Stork and Corey Linsley a year ago.

That said, there is a significant difference in readiness between Stork (a four-year starter at Florida State) and Linsley (four year contributor, two year starter at Ohio State) and the Seahawks' young projects. It isn't just that the Seahawks' rookies are making the position switch, Stork and Linsley played in pro-style attacks in college and excelled against quality competition.

While there is plenty to like about the upside of each, let's face it, the adjustment they're being asked to make is going to take time.

Cable noted the intelligence and athleticism of his young centers on Tuesday.

"Pretty smart, excellent movers, like we thought," Cable said when asked about how they were acclimating. "Physically, we probably won't know until we get them padded up, but really picking it up quickly, and I think really probably ahead of schedule a little bit."

Given their tools (and the brilliant coaching from Cable and assistant Pat Ruel), the youngsters could conceivably develop into starters but that isn't realistic in 2015. In fact, each is likely to be competing for a spot on the developmental squad this year rather than an actual starting role.

So, let's focus on the veterans Lewis and Jeanpierre, who combined to start seven regular season games for Seattle a year ago, all of them wins.

The Contenders

The Seahawks were 4-0 with Lewis as the starter, winning home games against the Oakland Raiders (30-24), Arizona Cardinals (19-3) and St. Louis Rams (20-6) and contributing to a franchise record 596 total yardage output in a 35-6 dismantling of the Cardinals on the road in Week 16.

Lewis, 24, shows excellent initial quickness on to seal off defenders from the action, as well as release to the second level. At 6-foot-1, 311 pounds, Lewis has a natural leverage advantage vs. the bull rush, absorbing it effectively in large part due to his short, stubby, powerful frame. Lewis has good lateral agility to shuffle and mirror his opponent in pass protection but he gets fundamentally lazy, leaning into defenders and leaving himself vulnerable to swim and spin moves. Lewis makes mistakes but doesn't dwell on them, looking for another opponent to smack before the whistle blows. While athletic and competitive, Lewis is not especially powerful. Too often getting stood up in short yardage situations and linebackers too often slip past or absorb his shove and remain in position to make the tackle.

Seattle was 3-0 with Jeanpierre as the starter, winning on the road (17-7) and at home (19-3) against the San Francisco 49ers and handling the Eagles in Philadelphia 24-14 in between.

Jeanpierre, 28, possesses good initial quickness off the ball but tops out quickly and isn't always able to complete the reach block. Despite possessing a lankier frame than Lewis at 6-foot-3, 301 pounds, he's functionally stronger, using aggressive, powerful hands to latch onto opponents. Jeanpierre can drive opponents off the ball when he keeps his pad level low. When he doesn't, however, the results can be disastrous as Jeanpierre doesn't possess great balance or core strength. For a player of his experience, Jeanpierre is too often knocked to the ground.

The Bottom Line:

While Lewis remains a bit raw in pass protection, his agility stands out in the running game, which, of course, remains the club's bread and butter offensively. His lack of height and arm length (32 3/8") isn't ideal and eventually he could be supplanted by one of Cable's projects but for the 2015 season, Lewis as the betting man's favorite to win the job.

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