When it comes to offensive linemen, Bigger is better

When it comes to offensive linemen, GM John Schneider says the Seahawks are looking at them differently this year with Tom Cable now coaching the unit.

From 6-foot-8, 319-pound Nate Solder to trim-at-the-waist, bulging-at-the-biceps Willie Smith, the offensive linemen are making their way through the NFL scouting combine.

And it has made for an impressive series of sights.

“I mean Nate Solder, the guy’s got no fat on him,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said Friday. “The whole group is good looking.”

If anything has changed from Year One of the partnership between Schneider and coach Pete Carroll to the start of their second year together, it is the way the Seahawks are looking at offensive linemen. And that is directly related to former Oakland Raiders head coach Tom Cable being hired last month to take over the unit that last year was the domain of Alex Gibbs, who then retired eight days before the season opener.

“It has changed since last year,” Schneider said. “Yes it has. Coach Gibbs liked a little bit lighter player and Tom is willing to play with a bigger man, so as we’re putting our board together that helps us.”

The offensive line definitely is an area of interest for the Seahawks, not only at the combine that is the prelude to April’s draft but also in free agency – whenever that might begin, with a possible lockout set for March 4 because the CBA between the owners and NFL Players Association is scheduled to expire.

The Seahawks used 10 different starting combinations on their line last season, a mix-and-match situation that included nine players and had Tyler Polumbus making starts at three spots and Chester Pitts and Mike Gibson doing it at two positions.

This is a good draft to be in the market for linemen – even for teams drafting at the bottom of the first round like the Seahawks, who hold the 25th pick.

“As far as the offensive linemen, I think it’s real deep,” said Mike Mayock, draft analyst for the NFL Network. “There are five tackles that you could take in the first round.”

That group includes Colorado’s Solder; Boston College’s Anthony Castanzo; USC’s Tyron Smith, who Mayock calls the most underrated player in the draft; Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi, who considers himself to be the top tackle available; and the duo of Villanova’s Ben Ijalana and Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod, who shared the No. 5 spot in Mayock’s pre-combine rankings. Smith, the physical specimen from East Carolina, is among the tackles that will be available in later rounds.

The top five guards, as ranked by Mayock: Florida’s Mike Pouncey, Baylor’s Danny Watkins, Georgia’s Clint Boling, Wisconsin’s John Moffitt and Florida State’s Rodney Hudson.

Linemen aside, Schneider also touched on a number of other topics during his time at the podium and later in the hallway at Lucas Oil Stadium:

Isaiah Stanback – The club just re-signed the former University of Washington quarterback, who was claimed off waivers last year and played wide receiver before tearing an Achilles tendon early in training camp.

“Isaiah had a great camp when he was healthy,” Schneider said. “If he can get over the injury, he’s a big, strong, physical, run-after-the-catch, take-the-ball-out-of-the-air core guy that has played quarterback and just has a very strong natural leadership aura about him. He’s a great guy in the building. He’s a great guy in the community. He wants to be there. He wants to be a really good player.

“I can’t believe that years ago I was out there scouting him and I just fell in love with the guy.”

Franchise and transition tags – The Seahawks used neither before the Thursday deadline, after tagging a player the previous nine years: kicker Olindo Mare (franchise, 2010), linebacker Leroy Hill (franchise, 2009), cornerback Marcus Trufant (franchise, 2008), kicker Josh Brown (franchise, 2007), guard Steve Hutchinson (transition, 2006), running back Shaun Alexander (franchise, 2005) and tackle Walter Jones (franchise, 2002-04).

“It just wasn’t the thing to do,” Schneider said.

Max Unger – He started 16 games his rookie season after being a second-round draft choice in 2009, but was limited to only the opener in 2010 before having season-ending surgery on a toe. Unger had played center at the University of Oregon.

“I think Pete and Todd and Darrell (Bevell, the new offensive coordinator) are still evaluating that,” Schneider said when asked if Unger would be a guard or center this season. “But ideally I think his spot is probably center. He played it in college at a pretty high level.”

Golden Tate – The Seahawks selected the Notre Dame wide receiver/returner in the second round of last year’s draft, and traded back into the round to have a shot at doing it. But his contributions as a rookie were limited.

“Golden is a very talented player,” Schneider said. “He recognizes that he needs to improve as a route runner and get better separation. He was a young guy that never had spring ball and was out there playing on pure ability. So for him to come into a camp and have all this stuff thrown at him – different route combinations and all that – I think has been a lot for him.

“But I think guys like Ben Obomanu and definitely (Brandon) Stokley when he came in have helped him out in terms of helping him recognize what he needs to work on. My expectations are high for him. I think he’s going to be a very good player.”

Matt Hasselbeck – He has been the starting quarterback the past 10 seasons, but he’s also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The sides have talked about signing a new contract.

“It’s going good. We’re having great dialogue,” Schneider said. “Matt is Mr. Seattle. He’s done a ton of great things for the city, on and off the field. We’ve had good dialogue.

“I think you’ve heard me say it before, the head coach and the quarterback at the most important people in the building.”

Brandon Mebane – He has been the starter at the three-technique defensive tackle spot for most of the past four seasons. But, like Hasselbeck, Mebane is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. Also like Hasselbeck, the club is talking to Mebane and his agents about signing a new deal.

“Brandon played well. I think Brandon is a steady pro,” Schneider said. “Definitely we hope we can have him back. We talked to his guys last night. We’re having discussions with them.”

Pete Carroll – Schneider was asked specifically what he knows now that he didn’t a year ago about the type of players Carroll wants. That one prompted Schneider to shy and then laugh.

“We spent a lot of time together last year, man,” he said. “I think we were on the same page pretty quick.”