Despite missing the first eight practices of training camp, first-round draft choice Russell Okung reported on Friday determined to become “the best Russell Okung I can possibly be.”
As Russell Okung made his way from the locker room to the practice field, he reached up to slap the “I’m In” sign above the door with his huge right hand.
And that he is. Finally.
After missing the first six days – and eight practices – the team’s top draft choice signed a six-year contract Friday in time to practice for the first time at Bing Training Camp. It was difficult to tell who was more relieved – Okung, the talented left tackle from Oklahoma State; or coach Pete Carroll, who used the sixth pick overall in April’s NFL draft to address a pivotal, but problematic, position where four players started last season.
“It feels great,” Okung said. “I always say this is the best job in the world and I’m back out here and I’m enjoying it – first day out with the guys. I definitely feel blessed to be here.”
Offered Carroll, “Thrilled to finally get him here.”
Now that Okung is here, he’ll spend a lot of time catching up with everything he missed.
“He’s in a scramble mode until he starts to feel comfortable and that means he’ll be coached around the clock,” Carroll said. “And he’ll be pressed at every single opportunity.”
Like Friday, when the team practiced in full pads – a first for Okung with the Seahawks, after an offseason of shells-and-helmet sessions during minicamp and OTA practices. While he got most of his work with the No. 2 line, Okung also took some snaps with the starting unit.
But make no mistake; Okung is the Seahawks’ starter on the left side. Offensive line coach Alex Gibbs made that crystal clear shortly after Okung was drafted.
“He will be our starting left tackle – Day One, Hour One,” Gibbs said.
Even when the clock – and team – has been running without him, because of the skills and drive that first attracted the Seahawks.
“He has tremendously long arms and tall stature,” said Gibbs, who also labeled the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Okung a “can’t miss” prospect. “He’s nasty and football is his life. He’s so committed to what he wants to do.
“He doesn’t have a lot of contingencies. He’s football. It’s the most important thing in his life and he is a committed young player, which is rare in today’s world – to get them where they come out (of college) and it’s everything they want to be.”
Despite his late arrival, Carroll has no qualms that Okung will be ready for the Aug. 14 preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans at Qwest Field.
“We are struggling a little bit at that position,” Carroll said of the left tackle spot where Ray Willis and Mansfield Wrotto have been working in Okung’s absence. “Within a week or so, he should be able to move his way back in. But he’ll get a bunch of reps here once he’s ready to handle that.”
Gibbs will make sure that is sooner, rather than later.
Asked what Gibbs had to say to him, Okung smile and said, “He has a lot of words for me. But that’s just him. I’m going to take the coaching and get better every day.”
Okung is well aware that he’s stepping into a position that Walter Jones played at a Hall of Fame level before retiring in April after 13 seasons and nine Pro Bowl berths – and the expectations that come with it.
“I love the fans of Seattle,” he said. “They don’t expect me to be Walter Jones. They expect me to be the best I can possibly me. And I’m going to be the best Russell Okung I can possibly be.”
As difficult as sitting and waiting was, Okung did not want to discuss what had transpired the past week.
“It’s done with now. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want it in my head,” he said. “I’m out here. I’m on the grass. I’m happy to be here.”
Carroll, however, emphasized that the no-show wasn’t necessary because Okung signed the contract that had been on the table. He also credited general manager John Schneider and vice president of football administration John Idzik, the club’s chief contract negotiator, for taking a firm stance in negotiations.
“This could have been done sooner,” Carroll said. “I think they took a stance that it was more important to fight for a contract that they thought (was fair), at the expense of him being out of football. That’s the way it goes. It puts Russell behind; it puts us behind, because they took that stance.
“It’s unfortunate it took so long, but we’re grateful it’s finally done.”
And that Okung is finally “in.”