Prior to the start of the new NFL league year in March, the Seahawks did not have either of their two major hubs from the 2020 season under contract. With Ethan Pocic set to hit the market, the organization was expected to pursue an update either through the free agency or an in-depth entry-level class.
But as general manager John Schneider sent a fifth-round pick to the Las Vegas Raiders for veteran guard Gabe Jackson to help strengthen Seattle’s attacking line, he chose to stay with the status quo in the center by signing again with Pocic as well as Kyle Fuller. In the process, the team bypassed some quality free agent options like David Andrews and Austin Reiter, which has not yet been signed. He also chose to select recipient D’Wayne Eskridge in the second round of the April draft instead of choosing Creed Humphrey or Quinn Meinerz, both of whom remained available at number 56 overall.
These decisions got a lot of control from fans and experts months ago. Now in the third week of training camp, the pivot position for the Seahawks remains highly questionable as Pocic continues to lose time with a prolonged ankle injury.
With Pocic still off the field and already ruled out for Seattle’s pre-season game in Vegas on Saturday, Fuller has taken all of the first team’s repetitions in recent practice. He has a career start in position, which came against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 10 last season. Behind him, Brad Lundblade is the only other center on the list and he is dressed for a large total of one NFL regular season game.
Pocic proved to be a valuable starter last season taking the lead for Justin Britt, delivering just two bags in 14 games. But he struggled in the stretch and has clear physical limitations, especially in the running blocking department, and injuries have been problematic for him. Fuller looked overwhelmed in his only start last year before spraining his ankle, while Lundblade has never played an attacking attack in an NFL game.
Although coaches Pete Carroll and Schneider spoke favorably of Pocic’s potential and Fuller skills during the off-season, the reality is that the group does not inspire much confidence playing in the rugged NFC West.
Thankfully, the Seahawks have a pair of in-house candidates who offer intrigue as potential hubs and the training staff already seem to be on board considering such alternatives.
Due to the fact that Pocic aggravated a scuffle again last Friday, Seattle began giving in to representatives of third-year goalkeeper Phil Haynes, who cut football this week. Finally healthy after two injured seasons, the former Wake Forest player has enjoyed a strong camp so far and has seen action with the first team that Jackson writes in some practice. He is the favorite of coach Mike Solari who has been bitten by the snake by bad luck early in his career.
Although Haynes did not play any center in college, he possesses good athleticism and lateral movement skills at 322 pounds thanks to his basketball background, which should take good care of coordinator Shane Waldron’s heavyweight scheme. He was praised for his ability to defend the pass with the Demon Deacons and held well in that direction in the division round against the Packers two years ago. He plays a physical brand of football and can also remove defenders from the offensive line in open runs, giving him great dexterity.
Already seeing work with beginners at camp, if he is able to quickly learn online calls and can consistently give Russell Wilson quality shotguns, Haynes could be a natural fit to the position that offers much more than Pocic.
However, this is not the only viable way Seattle can move Haynes into the starting lineup.
The Seahawks faced a similar depth dilemma at the center last November when they prepared to host the Cardinals in Week 11. Pocic remained on shock protocol and would not be able to play while Fuller’s ankle sprains limited him to training throughout the week, leaving the team struggling for an emergency option.
As Haynes is trying to do now, starting goalkeeper Damien Lewis was quickly tracked to the center during training week. Although he had no previous playing experience at any level in the position, he made enough impressions during the week to win a surprise start against Arizona.
Although he was far from perfect and struck his first win with Wilson, Lewis performed brilliantly in place of Pocic, helping the Seahawks hold on for a major 28-21 division victory. Carroll covered him with praise after the game and on numerous occasions this off-season, he hinted at the possibility of the motion blocker switching to the center full-time eventually. With extra practical time to hone his skills, he could develop into a perennial Pro Bowler at the time, adding to his value in a position of paramount importance.
If Seattle were to reconsider such an option now, Haynes could be placed on left guard post next to Lewis and deal with Duane Brown. Haynes would have to prove he could stay on the field, but if he is healthy and plays to his potential, a strong argument can be made his presence makes the group superior to him with Pocic or Fuller in the lineup.
In the worst case, giving Haynes and / or Lewis center-back extra repetitions will give the franchise better flexibility if Pocic loses extended time or does not function as expected.
Given the alleged depth, inexperience, and uncertainty that revolves around Pocic’s health, Schneider’s choice not to aggressively seek improvements at the center has created a legitimate cause for concern toward the regular season. It’s only mid-August, but it already feels like it’s time for the Seahawks to take drastic action to address a set of positions that were mistakenly neglected this spring. In a title window, the team can not afford to stick to its original plan.
While making a last-minute move, such as signing a Reiter or orchestrating a trade, cannot be ruled out as possible solutions, with Wilson’s defense as the top priority, or Lewis or Haynes appearing to be a viable substitute can help mitigate that error by moving forward and providing a potential long-term start-up for 2022 and beyond.