RENTON — Steady on the edge, uncertain in the middle.
That was the scouting report on the Seahawks’ offensive line a year ago.
Fast forward 12 months — and one Super Bowl title — and the script is essentially flipped.
“Yeah, it’s interesting because it’s the opposite of last year,” said offensive-line coach Tom Cable earlier this week. “We feel really good about where we are at inside, and then we need to get healthy at the tackle spot and we need to keep developing (the younger guys). So we have work to do there.”
Soon after Cable spoke, the Seahawks signed free agent Eric Winston, an eight-year veteran who started all 16 games last season at right tackle for the Arizona Cardinals.
Winston, who debuted Tuesday, has spent his first two practices working with the second unit at right tackle behind Justin Britt, a rookie taken in the second round from Missouri.
Britt entered camp competing with second-year player Michael Bowie for the right tackle spot, which became open when last year’s starter, Breno Giacomini, signed in the offseason with the New York Jets.
Bowie, though, suffered a shoulder injury on the first day of camp, though he’s thought to be close to returning to the field. Bowie had showed up for spring Organized Team Activities (OTA’s) in less than optimum shape.
The signing of Winston gives Seattle some wiggle room in case Britt isn’t yet ready and Bowie continues to have issues with his shoulder.
Once Bowie returns, he’ll join a three-player position battle that looks to be as fierce as any on the roster.
The hope is that left tackle will eventually return to the capable hands of Russell Okung. But Okung remains sidelined after having had offseason surgery to fix the toe ailment that hampered him most of last season, including an eight-game stint on the injured list. He’s likely out at least another week. With Okung sidelined, second-year player Alvin Bailey is working with the first team at left tackle.
Last year at this time, a then-healthy Okung and Giacomini were considered the rocks of the offensive line. The guard spots were uncertain, with James Carpenter, Paul McQuistan, J.R. Sweezy and John Moffitt all competing.
Now, Carpenter appears entrenched at left guard and Sweezy at right guard, with McQuistan now in Cleveland and Moffitt in retirement.
The performance of Carpenter, the team’s first-round pick in 2011, hasn’t lived up to his high draft status, in part due to nagging knee issues.
But Carpenter is now healthy and in the best shape of his career. He credits a running program, as well as eating better, to getting down to about 324 pounds, and more important, ramping up his stamina.
Cable, in fact, says the difference between Carpenter this year and last is huge.
“You are talking about the other end of the spectrum,” he said. “He’s in great condition and his confidence is very high.”
It’s a critical year for Carpenter. The team did not exercise an option on his contract for 2015 for $7.4 million. He is playing this year for $1.4 million and can become a free agent after the season, though Seattle could re-sign him at any time.
Carpenter said he was not surprised by the team’s decision.
“I figured it because I’ve been hurt a whole bunch of times and I’m just now getting back to where my knee is right,” Carpenter said. “So I understand it. I respect it.”
Sweezy, meanwhile, is up to about 310 pounds after playing last year at about 295. Cable says his improvement has been evident in camp so far.
And solidifying things is that center Max Unger is also healthy after battling a series of nagging injuries last season. The Seahawks hope he can return to his 2012 Pro Bowl form.
“We are really excited about the inside three,” Cable said.
Eventually he hopes to say the same about the outside.