Breaking: Seahawks Coach Alex Gibbs Gives Okung Starting Job

Pete Carroll’s first strike in rebuilding the fallen Seattle Seahawks franchise came days before the expected announcement that six-time All-Pro left tackle Walter Jones is retiring.

Actually, it was a second strike.

Seattle’s new coach took Russell Okung bowling in Stillwater, Okla., when he visited the All-American tackle from Oklahoma State before the NFL draft.

Carroll and new general manager John Schneider believe they rolled a perfect game on the first, signature day of their new regime. They filled their most urgent needs by selecting Jones’ replacement, then Texas All-American safety Earl Thomas at No. 14 overall.

Okung’s Oklahoma State teammates considered him a natural leader. The Seahawks marveled over his dedication to football, and to excellence.

“This guy wants to be the best left tackle in the NFL,” Schneider said. “He might want to be the best left tackle ever. He’s got a presence about him.”

New Seahawks offensive line coach Alex Gibbs immediately gave the starting job to Okung, further cementing the inevitable word that Jones is done following two knee surgeries and no games played since Thanksgiving Day 2008. An announcement on Jones’ future is scheduled April 29.

“We’re going to throw him right in. He will be our starting left tackle day one, hour one, and we will live through whatever pain there is,” Gibbs said of Okung. “He’s going to be Walter’s replacement, obviously. … We wanted to make sure (that issue) was dealt with as quickly as possible.”

Okung was the second offensive tackle taken in the top six picks — two spots after the Washington Redskins selected Oklahoma’s Trent Williams, whom the Seahawks would have picked had he been available. Okung is Seattle’s first tackle taken in the opening round since Jones also went sixth overall in 1997, then became a nine-time Pro Bowl selection.

“I’m a bit overwhelmed,” said Okung, who’s from Houston. “I think Seattle made the best choice.”

Okung, the 2009 Big 12 Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year, sounded awed to be replacing Jones.

“He’s a great player … obviously a future Hall of Fame guy,” Okung said. “I can only hope I can be as good as him.”

At Oklahoma State, Okung was in a zone-blocking system that Gibbs says has some similarities to what he’s installing in Seattle. Okung started 47 consecutive college games, the last 39 at left tackle, after arriving in Stillwater weighing 250 pounds.

Okung is the first Oklahoma State offensive lineman to go in the first round since guard John Ward went 25th overall to the Minnesota Vikings in 1970.

The play-making Thomas, who has 4.3-second speed in the 40-yard dash, fills the Seahawks’ most urgent need on defense. Seattle had just two safeties on the roster present for last week’s minicamp. That trumped at least two trade offers the Seahawks received to move down, just before they took their first safety in an opening round since Kenny Easley in 1981.

“He’ll be as good as there is in the NFL at being able to cover wide receivers as well as slot receivers,” Carroll said, adding that Thomas goes into the lineup at free safety — for now opposite veteran holdover Jordan Babineaux.

The Seahawks will fill Thomas’ most urgent need, whenever the two sides reach a contract agreement.

Thomas left Texas after his sophomore season to enter the draft to help his parents find a new home.

Thomas’ parents’ house in Orange, Texas, was destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Rita. His folks and all of their belongings have since been cramped into a room in Thomas’ grandparents’ house in Orange. The room is so small, the safety says it’s the size of a young child’s space.

“That was one of the main reasons why I came out, because of the house situation,” Thomas said by telephone from a draft gathering of what he said was 400 people in the basement of the Sixth Street Community Church in Orange, where his grandfather is the pastor.

“I’m going to get them situated … I just want to get them back on their feet and comfortable,” the 20-year-old said. “They’ve been taking care of me all my life. It’s just a great feeling for me just to be able to return the favor.”

Thomas set a Longhorns record last season with eight interceptions. He started all 27 games of his college career, finishing with 10 interceptions.

“This was a big day for the organization. I’m so fired up,” Carroll said. “Two great picks, two guys that we know are going to impact the future of this club.”