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From 1st week of OTAs: Is rookie Olu Oluwatimi the guy to fix the Seahawks' center issue?

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 5/26/2023 Gregg Bell, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

May 25—The anchor position to the offensive line and, thus, the offense, in Seattle? It has mostly been a black hole.

The list of those who have started there reads like a who's not in recent Seahawks history.

Since Seattle traded Pro Bowl center Max Unger to New Orleans for tight end Jimmy Graham in 2015, the Seahawks have had eight different starting centers. Eight guys in eight years, at the trigger position of the offensive line. Center is the key guy. He must recognize defenses. He must mesh pass-protection calls with the quarterback. He must communicate those calls quickly and effectively to the rest of the offense before each snap.

Without a consistently effective center, the offense cannot consistently be effective.

Patrick Lewis. Drew Nowak. Justin Britt. Joey Hunt. Ethan Pocic. Kyle Fuller. Damien Lewis. Austin Blythe. That's who has started at center for the Seahawks since 2015.

Lewis did it for one game. He's Seattle's starting left guard.

Blythe — like Pocic, and Fuller, and Lewis, and Nowak — did it for just one season, 2022. Blythe retired this offseason at age 30, after his one-year, $4 million Seahawks contract ended.

Britt is the only recent center who started there more than one season. But it was his third position with Seattle. He succeeded only after failing at tackle and guard.

This offseason, Pete Carroll declared about center: Eight is enough.

"We gotta get the center thing figured out," Carroll said in March at the NFL's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis.

"We got to get that thing nailed."

Has the hammer finally arrived?

Enter Olu Oluwatimi

The first week of Seattle's voluntary organized team activities ended Thursday with the third of nine OTA practices at team headquarters. Rookie Olu Oluwatimi was the starting center for many of Thursday's drills.

The fifth-round draft choice from Michigan split time with Evan Brown.

Brown is the veteran Carroll, general manager John Schneider and offensive line coach Andy Dickerson signed in March. Brown signed only a one-year contract. It has a near-minimum base salary of $1.25 million and includes a $1 million signing bonus.

That low-risk, non-guaranteed contract that doesn't exactly dictate he must be the starting center for 2023. Plus, Brown played more guard than center last season for Detroit, after veteran center Frank Ragnow returned to the Lions' offensive line from injury.

Brown signed about six weeks before the Seahawks drafted Oluwatimi. Carroll, Schneider, Dickerson and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron were elated the Rimington Award winner as college football's best center last season was still available on the final day of the draft, in round five. (The same round Carroll and Schneider once drafted Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, by the way).

"Grown man," Schneider said of Oluwatimi, who played at Air Force, Virginia and Michigan. "Incredibly smart. Knows the game. Natural-born leader. Awesome week at the Senior Bowl.

"You can't move him. He's just super stout. Really good person, and (a) top-level competitor."

Yeah, the Seahawks could use 6 feet 2 and 309 pounds of that at center.

This week's OTAs showed what the Seahawks believed: coach Jim Harbaugh's multiple, physical offense at Michigan that requires a center to make pro-like adjustments and calls at the line has flattened Oluwatimi's learning curve into the NFL.

Seahawks director of college scouting Aaron Highline calls Michigan's program "big-boy football."

Yeah, Seattle could use some of that at center, too.

"Coach Harbaugh has always been that way with his style. And they're separating from other teams in that regard (at Michigan)," Carroll said.

Waldron said of Oluwatimi in Michigan's offense last season: "For those guys there, I know they run a lot of multiple formations, a lot of multiple sets. So there's going to be a lot of confusion that they provide to the defense. And also, playing O-line there (at Michigan), you've got to understand (blocking) targets. You've got to understand structure of a defense for some of the funky looks that they can present."

Thursday, after they had seen him on the field for all of three OTA practices plus two more in a rookie minicamp this month, Waldron and Dickerson raved about Oluwatimi's instant acclimation to Seattle's offense and the NFL.

"He showed up as a pro," Waldron said.

"A good understanding. A good confidence. A good command of an offensive system, even though he is learning it on the fly here as he gets the installs. ...

"He has a great grasp of the game and where guys are, so he's able to pick things up really quick and command that line of scrimmage. ...

"A true pro feel right away."

Dickerson was as impressed with Oluwatimi's three seasons at center in the more zone-blocking scheme at the University of Virginia, before he transferred, as he was with Oluwatimi's final college season at more gap-and-trap-blocking Michigan.

Then Dickerson saw how quickly, within days, Oluwatimi assimilated and commanded the offense at Senior Bowl week. Seattle's line coach became convinced the rookie could handle mastering the Seahawks' playbook over May, June, July and August before this season begins.

"You see this guy, he's learning a new system in a short amount of time, with new coaches and new players...and just the one-on-one reps from that, as well," Dickerson said. "Then you see him take command and control in both those settings, at Michigan and at the Senior Bowl, and see him drive the offense, knowing he's in command and can communicate and get everyone on the same page.

"That's always exciting."

Of course, Waldron wasn't about to hand Oluwatimi the Seahawks' starting job in May, two months before anybody hits anyone in shoulder pads. By mid-August after a couple weeks in pads at training camp, a leader will emerge.

Until then, Hunt re-signed with Seattle late last season and again this year as a veteran backup. Brown will get his chance at center, though he can also be a swing guard.

Yet the offensive coordinator sees the value — and, frankly — the need — for the Seahawks to have a center they can count on for more than four months of one season.

To, as Carroll said, "get the center thing figured out" for more than part of one year.

"For one of these guys to step and take that position — whether it's Evan or Olu or Joey — moving forward and allowing for that continuity beyond just the one-season approach would obviously be beneficial," Waldron said.

"But it is a year-to-year league. Each team each season has a lot of different features and aspects to it. We are looking for the best guy to find for the coming season."

DK Metcalf not present

Quarterbacks Geno Smith and Drew Lock stayed after practice to throw to Tyler Lockett, rookie Jaxson Smith-Njigba and other wide receivers and tight ends.

DK Metcalf wasn't there for it. He wasn't on the field Thursday. He did participate Monday in the first voluntary OTA practice that was open to the media.

Recently signed defensive end Mario Edwards was not on the field for either of the two OTA practices open to the media this week. Neither was punter Michael Dickson. Lock was holding for Jason Myers' place kicks.

Darrell Taylor fully participated in the helmets-and-shorts practice. He wasn't on the field Monday for the first OTA.

This story was originally published May 25, 2023, 4:56 PM.

(c)2023 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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