The Seahawks’ coaching staff refers to them as red-shirts – those players who have been limited by injuries or circumstance the past two seasons but are ready to return and mark their mark on this team.
Greg Scruggs had just finished lining up at three different spots along the defensive line on an unseasonably warm afternoon along the shores of Lake Washington and during yet another spirited, up-tempo practice.
So why was the third-year lineman smiling?
Because he had lined up at five-technique end, three-technique tackle and even nose tackle during the sixth of the Seahawks’ OTA sessions on Thursday. Scruggs missed all of last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last May, and also was limited by injuries as a rookie in 2012 after the Seahawks selected him in the seventh round of the NFL Draft.
“It’s fun, man,” Scruggs said. “They take your job away from you for a year and a half; it’s hard not to smile now that I’m back out here.”
Coach Pete Carroll refers to Scruggs as a red-shirt player, along with linebacker Korey Toomer, tight end Anthony McCoy, cornerback Tharold Simon and defensive tackle Jesse Williams – also former draft choices who are returning from surgeries. Carroll also includes defensive linemen Jordan Hill and Benson Mayowa in the group, because they saw limited action as rookies last season.
But as the Seahawks continue to prepare for the 2014 season, these out-of-sight-but-not-out-mind players are back in the competitive mix to replace those from the Super Bowl championship team who have signed elsewhere this offseason – defensive linemen Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald; defensive backs Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond and Chris Maragos; and tight end Kellen Davis.
“Those are guys who have come out of nowhere. They didn’t even play for us last year,” Carroll said of the majority of the red-shirt seven. “So we’re really excited about the competitive element that adds to the team that we bring back from last season.”
Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel are expected to be the starters at the five-technique end and three-technique tackle spots, with Bennett stepping in for Bryant. But Scruggs has the size (6 feet 3, 310 pounds) and skills to fill a swing role in the rotation that proved so successful for the Seahawks last season.
After his excruciatingly long period of inactivity, Scruggs is ready to tackle anything – any role – that comes his way.
“I’m treating this like my rookie year,” he said. “I’m coming in, regardless of what I’ve done before, and I’m just trying to work and prove myself again and earn my spot again. It’s hard for me to get in the mindset of I’ve been here and just going back to where I was before.
“I can’t. I treat it like I’m a new guy and I’ve got to work as hard as anyone else to earn my spot on the team.”
If you’re waiting for any woe-is-me talk from Scruggs, you’re in for a long wait.
“Quite frankly, the NFL doesn’t allow you to be like that,” he said with a laugh. “But there’s no self-pity. I’m not asking for any empathy or sympathy. None of the above. I like it the way it is. Things happen for a reason. God has a plan. There was some reason I wasn’t supposed to play last season.
“I’m just happy I’m back out here again and I’m ready to go earn my spot again.”
And Scruggs is doing that with the blessing of Bryant, a team leader and still friend who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars after being released by the Seahawks.
“He never was bitter about it, for even one moment,” Scruggs said. “He only told me that now is my turn to step up. Since he told me that, I’ve taken that to heart and done everything I can to fill his shoes.”
Out-of-sight players providing eye-opening reasons to remember them.