Doug Nienhuis: The Waiting Game

Tom Petty said it best many years ago – the waiting is the hardest part. Certainly, when you've spent your first NFL season on the practice squad after a promising collegiate career, waiting becomes the norm. Certainly, when you're picked two rounds below your projected spot in the draft, patience is far more than a virtue…it's a requirement for survival.

All you can do is bring the pads out, pull them on, and throw your body around day after day, in the hope that your coaches and teammates notice. Perhaps your name will be elevated in their minds as your consistent performance earns their respect.

Someday, perhaps it’ll be your name in the starting lineup.

But that’s someday.

Seahawks guard Doug Nienhuis knows all about the waiting game – it’s the only game he’s played in his rookie season. Following a solid collegiate career at Oregon State, the former tackle was selected by Seattle in the seventh round with the 254th pick overall – one slot away from “Mr. Irrelevant” status.

In college, he was regarded as a solid offensive tackle who played with a nasty attitude and finished his blocks with authority. He never missed a game at Oregon State, paving the way for school rushing leaders Steven Jackson and Ken Simonton. While those attributes followed him to the NFL, the Seahawks took a broader view. They saw the side of Doug Nienhuis that’s still growing and learning, which prompted the organization to waive him on September 3rd. However, the Seahawks also saw his potential and willingness to work, which is why he’s currently on the team’s practice squad.

The waiting game? Doug Nienhuis knows it well. He hopes it’s a game he can win – just like every other contest that’s come his way.

.NET: Tell us about growing up in Southern California. When did you first start playing football?

Nienhuis: I started playing football in sixth grade – mostly on the scout team, playing any position. Anywhere they needed me, although I was primarily on the offensive line. In high school, I tried out for a tight end position, and the coaches told me that I could either be a third-round tight end or a starting offensive lineman. That made the decision pretty easy.

.NET: You were a two-year starter at left offensive tackle for Woodbridge High School, where you earned first team all-county honors by the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times. What made Oregon State the school for you? Had you been recruited by other colleges?

Nienhuis: I was also recruited by USC, Oregon, UCLA…a lot of Pac-10 schools. In my senior year of high school, I hurt my knee and was out a couple of games. Of course, that was when USC called to say that they wanted to see me play, and I had to tell them that I was out of the next game. They wished me well, and that was the last I heard from them.

Oregon State was the school that stuck with me. They were one of the first schools to get in touch with me. I took a visit up there and liked the area and the coaching staff.

.NET: At Oregon State, you were a First Team All-Pac-10 Conference selection in 2004. Who was the best defensive player you ever faced in college?

Nienhuis: The best defensive player I faced my whole college career? I faced (former Arizona State and current Baltimore DE Terrell) Suggs when I was a sophomore, and he was great – but I was just a sophomore then! For an equal battle with an opponent, probably USC’s Shaun Cody (in my senior year).

However, the best defensive player I ever faced in college was on my own team – the guy I faced in practice - (defensive end) Bill Swancutt. He was the best at different angles – bull-rush, spin moves, speed moves. You never knew what he’d do. He’d get upfield at you, start to bull-rush, and then spin out. Very unpredictable.

.NET: There were quite a few Seahawks fans who thought that Swancutt would have been great in Seattle - just the sort of potential impact pass-rusher the team needed.

Nienhuis: Yeah, I was very surprised he didn’t go earlier in the draft (Swancutt was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the 10th pick in the 6th round). I was also disappointed that (Oregon offensive lineman Adam) Snyder beat me by one point for the Morris trophy – that would have been great for two Oregon State guys to win it. (Ed. Note: The Morris Trophy is a unique award given to the outstanding offensive and defensive linemen in the Pac-10 Conference. What makes the award unique is the selection procedure, which has the starting offensive linemen in the conference voting for the defensive winner and vice versa. Swancutt won the Morris Award for Outstanding Defensive lineman in 2004).

When did the realization finally hit you that you might be good enough to be a pro football player?

Nienhuis: Between my junior and senior years – closer to my senior year, when I began to get calls from agents. I took my first Wonderlic in my junior year, and I started to hear people say I could come out and play (at that level). My dad called me one night in my senior year and told me to sit down…I’m wondering by the tone of his voice if my mom hadn’t been in a car accident or something! He was very serious and told me that an agent had called him.

.NET: You were an offensive tackle at Oregon State. Was the thought pretty immediate that you might move inside to guard at the NFL level?

Nienhuis: Some NFL teams saw me as a guard, some as a tackle. I knew, when Seattle drafted me, that I’d most likely be playing guard. They pretty much came right out and told me that. They’d just drafted (Florida State tackle) Ray Willis (in the fourth round), as well. I also was watching some post-draft TV show and saw my name on the crawl with “Guard” next to it.

.NET: What was your combine experience like?

Nienhuis: It was interesting – it’s definitely a meat market. When you arrive, they take you in right away and run all the medical tests, all the (fitness) tests…and any off-time is taken up with interviews with teams and scouts. It’s just non-stop. It’s at the very end that they have you bench press, run and jump. I think there’s a reason they do it that way - they want to see what you’re made of and if you can do the physical stuff after the mental tests.

.NET: How many pro teams contacted you before? When the Seahawks first contacted you, and did you come to Kirkland for a workout?

Nienhuis: Thirteen teams contacted me (before the draft). I didn’t travel for (specific team workouts), just the combine and Oregon State’s Pro Day.

.NET: Did you see (Seahawks President and GM) Tim Ruskell at the combine?

Nienhuis: No, I didn’t see him there – I would have known if Seattle reps were around me, because I really wanted to be drafted by the Seahawks. My boyhood team was the Miami Dolphins, just because Dan Marino was my favorite player. But when I moved to Oregon…well, you’re either a Seahawks fan or a 49ers fan there. I had seen the 2004 training camp scrimmage (at Portland’s PG&E Park) and I was very impressed with the organization.

.NET: Where were you when you heard that you had been drafted? Who informed you?

Nienhuis: I was at my parents’ house in Southern California. I got a call from a secretary who worked for the Seahawks, was asked to hold, and then Mike Holmgren was on the phone, telling me that the Seahawks were about to draft me. I didn’t see it on TV, because ESPN cut to commercial when I was drafted. I had been projected by some as a late-fourth or mid-fifth round pick, so I was starting to wonder what was going on!

When the seventh round started, I began getting lots of calls from teams who were interested in me as a free agent. But the Seahawks did pick me, and it was great to hear coach Holmgren. I may have spoken to Mr. Ruskell that day as well – I do remember talking to Coach Holmgren and then the media.

.NET: Tell us about your first NFL training camp in 2005. How much better were the pro players you were lining up with and against?

Nienhuis: They are so much quicker – on the line, they play a lot lower. They’re able to maintain strength and power so much longer. There’s a reason they call it the pros!

.NET: What is it like working with Seahawks offensive line coach Bill Laveroni?

Nienhuis: He’s great – he’s got a really good coaching style. I was used to Coach (Gregg) Smith at Oregon State – a lot of yelling from him! Then, when you’d get a technique right, he’d be right in there – ‘Way to go!’ I’ve learned a lot from both coaches.

.NET: You were one of 23 final cuts on September 3rd. Did you have an inkling that you might be on the bubble, so to speak, or was it a surprise?

Nienhuis: I knew it would be close – I was thinking it was. I was thankful I still had a spot and was down to the wire, but after the Minnesota game (the final preseason game on September 2nd), I thought, ‘Something’s gonna happen’. The next day, I got the call. I was told that I was being waived, but not to go anywhere because the Seahawks were putting me on the practice squad as soon as they were able. I had to go sign all the waiver paperwork, but I know I’d be on the practice squad at that time.

.NET: What’s life as a practice squad player like? How is it different than for players who have a place on the set roster?

Nienhuis: We do all the same stuff, really – we just get weekends off (laughs). It’s kind of like redshirting in college, but with a lot less job stability. I’m just hoping that things are working and progressing for me. I’ll just keep playing.

.NET: What does the future hold for Doug Nienhuis? What are your goals in pro football, and what would you like to do when your time in the NFL is done?

Nienhuis: The current goal? Certainly to make the roster. After football, I’d like to get into advertising, maybe through photography (Nienhuis was a photography major at Oregon State).

We’d like to thank Doug Nienhuis for his time, Mike Flood and Dave Pearson from the Seahawks organization for their cooperation, and our own Les Norton for his invaluable assistance and persistence!

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at Top Stories