Wednesday, the team’s still-simmering coach announced that rookie Max Unger will start at center in this week’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Qwest Field, with veteran Chris Spencer moving to right guard to replace Unger – but also splitting time with Mike Gibson.
Drastic times call for drastic measures, and the two converged after Spencer had three botched snaps against the Texans – while snapping left-handed because he has been wearing a cast on his right hand the past five games to protect a fractured thumb.
“We think that eventually Max will be a very good center in this league, and rather than wait until the offseason to make that move we’re going to do it right now,” said Mora, who arrived for his weekly Q&A session wearing his on-field attire, with his hat pulled down and his passion turned up.
Unger, this year’s second-round draft choice, played center the past two seasons at the University of Oregon. He also got some second-half snaps during the preseason with the Seahawks.
“I try to not reference college too much, because this really is not even the same game,” Unger said.
Mora said that Unger was “excited” when told of the switch on Tuesday. But Wednesday, Unger took a more low-key approach.
“The optimal situation would be Chris at center, but it kind of came down and it’s just something we’ve got to deal with,” Unger said. “It’s not optimal for really anybody on the line. We’d like to stay at our spots that we started the season at.”
The fact that Unger has started 13 games at guard to get used to the speed of the game and the quality of the competition at this level will help with his transition to center – where more will be asked of him, and needed from him.
“He does have a feel for the speed game,” Mora said. “Before we did this, we went and reviewed his center work as well – all the snaps he played at center in preseason games. Just to say, ‘OK, let’s make sure that we are doing our due diligence before we just make this move.’ So we looked at every snap, and evaluated it, and we just feel he can handle it.”
Spencer, a first-round draft choice in 2005, did not talk to the media. But Spencer was “certainly disappointed,” Mora said.
“Chris is a guy that, in his life, has overcome many, many, many obstacles,” his coach continued. “And I think that this is just another one that he’ll overcome. While he’s disappointed, he’s also indicated to me that he’s a team-first guy, and that he’ll do whatever he can to make sure that the transition for Max is smooth and seamless, and he’ll help him as much as he can.
“At the same time, he’ll do the best job that he possibly can at right guard. So, that’s what I expected out of Chris.”
Left tackle Sean Locklear said, “It’s a little shock,” when asked about the double move. But perhaps the biggest surprise in this shuffle is that Gibson also will be given his first chance to play for the Seahawks after being inactive for the past seven games. The team liked Gibson coming out of college, when he played in a zone-blocking scheme at Cal. He was drafted in the sixth round by the Philadelphia Eagles last year, but spent the season on injured reserve. When he was released this season and added to the Eagles’ practice squad in October, the Seahawks signed him to their 53-man roster.
“Mike has shown to be – at least through practice and meetings and being around the team – a guy that deserves an opportunity,” Mora said. “We want to see what he’s capable of.
“We’re going to be proactive at this time up front, make moves that we hope and think can help this football team improve and get better – not just this week, but for the future. So we need to see what we’ve got, and now is the perfect time to do that.”
Mora isn’t just making these moves because he said something needed to be done. He discussed what to do, and which players to do it with, at length with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and line coach Mike Solari – who now is working with his seventh starting combination this season, not to mention his third starter at center and second at right guard; to go with the four starters he has used at left tackle and three at left guard.
“It’s pretty significant,” Mora said. “We weighed everything. This wasn’t something where we just said, ‘Let’s try this.’ It took us a long time to make sure we were making the right decision.”
Mora wants to see more toughness, tenaciousness and downright nastiness from his entire team – starting with the O-line.
“It’s needed everywhere. I’d like a whole team of nail-eaters,” Mora said. “Every down there’s a collision. That’s the meat and potatoes of football, is the interior line. If you’re not winning in there, then you’re not winning.”
That’s where Gibson comes into play, even if it is through a side door.
Asked what he has seen from Gibson, Mora offered, “Toughness. Physical strength. Energy. Grit. Smarts. Great attitude. Excellent work ethic. A lot of good things. Now we need to see it in game.”
Mora left out a couple: Patience, and perseverance.
“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for the past year and a half,” Gibson said. “To come into this situation right here, it’s a blessing that I’m here. I’ve got great coaches, great teammates and they’re helping me along and making the transition a lot easier.”
Gibson isn’t trying to make more of the opportunity than is there.
“All I know is that I might have an opportunity to play,” he said. “I plan on taking full advantage of it and hopefully giving them a chance not to take me out of the game. That’s the plan.”