The Elephant in the Locker Room: Pete Carroll’s Hand-Wringing Endorsement of Gilliam


be-back-smBy Greg Wright

I find it interesting that I led my first article of the season with a discussion of the non-call in the Super Bowl of a blow to the head of Carolina QB Cam Newton… and the lead story of the first weekend of regular season action is uncalled blows to Newton’s head.

It’s even more interesting in light of the midweek injury to Germain Ifedi, the Seahawks’ first-round draft pick this season. Ifedi was slated to start at right guard in the revamped offensive line–but now a major wrench has been thrown into the works. This might have dire implications for the our own QB’s head.

Earlier in the week, Pete Carroll announced that Garry Gilliam had “won” the competition for the starting position at right tackle on the O-line, beating out high-priced free-agent acquisition J’Marcus Webb for the honor.

So what did Carroll, Bevell, and Cable see in last week’s game that gave them such confidence in Gilliam?

Well, to be honest, not an awful lot. Sure, Heaps and Boykin weren’t getting pounded into the turf, and Seattle’s ground game continued to crank out the yards regardless of who was in the backfield. But Oakland also played second-stringers for the entire game… and Gilliam and Webb, between them, made a couple of those second-bananas look kinda like all-pros.

Here’s what the coaches actually saw on film when they got a chance to look in detail at Gilliam’s last series to open the third quarter.

gilliam-1-block-shed-read-option-no-gain-somers-whiff

On first down, Gilliam (79, center) finishes the play on his knees after a host of Raiders swarms Collins for no gain on a read option. The failure of the play was not entirely Gilliam’s fault as Sommers (40) completely whiffed on a couple of weak attempts at throwing blocks, and the protection call wasn’t the best. But Gilliam’s the only lineman close to Collins and five dudes in silver and black. It doesn’t look good.

gilliam-2-two-blockers-5-yard-pass

On second down, Gilliam (lost in the mess in the middle of the screen) chips a couple of pass rushers on this five-hard completion. The spectacular block is thrown by Alex Collins (36), completely upending the Oakland defender. A decent play and decent outcome.

gilliam-3-switch-off-pass-protection-no-gain

On third down, Gilliam and switches off pass protection with the right guard as Oakland’s rushers pull a stunt. The blocking scheme is sufficient for Heaps to get the pass off to Collins for a completion in the flat… but Oakland recovers quickly and the play goes for no gain.

As Gilliam did most of the rest of the game, his play was adequate even though the series resulted in the dreaded three-and-out. He didn’t do anything spectacular, but he also didn’t whiff. Most importantly, the QB didn’t get pounded.

On the next series, Webb came in to sub for Gilliam. This is what the film shows:

webb-1-not-light-on-his-feet-pass-to-somers-first-down

On this first-down toss for 12 yards, Webb maintains his block near the line of scrimmage. He’s not particularly light on his feet, however. He’s just a little hard to get around because of his size.

webb-2-effective-but-not-mobile-8-yards

The next pass goes for 7 yards as Webb stands his man (47) up at the point of attack. But he again looks a little slow of foot.

webb-3-loses-block-on-latham-who-makes-the-play-gain-of-2

On 2nd down, Webb loses his block on undrafted free agent Latham (75), who scoots down the line of scrimmage and makes the tackle for a gain of 2. Not a play Latham should make against a high-priced starter-caliber tackle.

Webb closes the 4-and-out series by again losing the block on Latham. The Seahawks punt, Latham makes the Raiders as a rookie UFA, and Gilliam gets the starting spot for the Hawks at right tackle.

It’s not like Gilliam won over the coaches, though. He spent the entire season last year at right tackle, so he’s the heir apparent to himself… even though Cable wanted to move him left tackle. Even though the 6’7″ Webb was specifically brought in to play right tackle.

No, as Carroll put it, what Gilliam has to offer is just his “continuity” with the system… and, as the film shows, just a little more mobility to deal with speedy pass rushers.

The outcome is just as well, though. With Ifedi on the sidelines for a while, Webb can shift inside to guard, a (supposedly) more natural spot for him along the line. He is going to have a hard time keeping his pad-level low enough at guard, though.

Once again, the offensive line will be a work in progress.

Russell may want to watch his head.

After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.


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