News Tidbits and Offensive Tackles

I figured I’d start this thing off with an Owen Schmitt sighting.  According to Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post, the Bengals will be giving our favorite head-bashing caveman a tryout next Tuesday.  Schmitt’s got a pretty good chance of making the team, too: with Fui Vakapuna on IR, the only fullback currently on Cincinnati’s roster is Brian Leonard and his brittle, brittle shoulders.

Next up is Pete Carroll’s press conference yesterday.  The Q&A session mainly involved information we’ve all heard before, but he mentioned two things worth pointing out.

First off, LB David Hawthorne will return from injury in time to play this week, but Anthony McCoy will not.

Secondly, Mike Gibson has won the starting gig at left guard over Ben Hamilton, and either Tyler Polumbus or Chester Pitts will start at left tackle.  I would say that Polumbus is the more likely starter, given that this is Pitts’ first week of practice since injuring his knee last year.  Put that together with the guys we already know about and Sunday’s offensive line should look something like this:

LT Tyler Polumbus – LG Mike Gibson – C Chris Spencer – RG Max Unger – RT Sean Locklear

If Unger manages to improve his play (which could be a big if — he gets pushed around far too often), the Seahawks’ interior line has a chance to be pretty reliable this year.  The tackle situation, however, deserves a little more discussion.

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Before we get to Okung, let’s talk about Locklear, shall we?  In the last few seasons, we’ve seen Locklear go from being a solid, if unspectacular, right tackle and heir apparent to Walter Jones  to an injury-riddled, mistake-prone lineman who has held on to his starting job only because his potential replacements were either needed elsewhere on the line or were even worse players than him.

After watching Locklear stumble his way through the preseason, the Seahawks traded a seventh round pick to the Eagles for Stacy Andrews.  That’s a pretty low asking price, considering that Philly signed Andrews to a 6 year, $38.9 mil contract just last year.  So, what gives?

Well, there’s no nice way to put this, so here goes: Andrews was awful last season.  Luckily for Seattle, there are two very good reasons to believe that 2009 was a fluke year for Andrews.  First, he was less than a year removed from ACL surgery when the Eagles signed him.  Just ask Deion Branch how long it takes for your knee to feel right again after surgery (hint: longer than a year).

Secondly, Philadelphia played him out of position.  In 2007, Andrews took over the starting right tackle job in Cincinnati when pro bowler Willie Anderson was injured, and Andrews played so well that the Bengals used their franchise tag on him the following offseason.  He went on to start fifteen games at RT in ’08 before tearing his ACL in week 16.  After the Bengals let him hit free agency, the Eagles promptly signed the promising young stud RT to a fat contract  — and just as promptly slotted him in as their starting right guard, not tackle.  Figure that one out.

The Seahawks could benefit substantially from the Eagles’ screw-up.  Andrews has had an extra year to recover from ACL surgery, so the knee is less of a concern, and Carroll has proven that he’s capable of watching and understanding game film by letting Andrews compete with Locklear for the right tackle position. I hear that it helps when you put your players in the position that best helps them excel (take notes, Andy Reid).

By contrast, there is no competition for left tackle.  The job belongs to Russell Okung, period.  However, when he returns to the starting lineup in another week or two he’ll be coming back from a high ankle sprain, an injury that’s claimed more than a few players’ careers over the years (D.J. Hackett, anyone?).  Since the team has so many hopes (and millions of dollars) riding on the health of Okung’s ankle ligaments, I figured I should take a moment to explain what a high ankle sprain is.

Traction is important in football.  If your guys are slipping and sliding all over the field, you aren’t going to win many games.  However, cleated shoes and artificial turf bring with them the risk of giving players too much traction: the player’s body moves in one direction, but the cleats stay lodged in the turf, keeping the player’s foot rooted in place.  Hey presto, ankle sprain.

A regular ankle sprain occurs when the ankle ligaments are strained by movement that rolls the ankle, which damages the ligaments that wrap around the outside of the ankle and attach to the bones of the foot.  An ankle rolled to the outside (as shown in the linked picture) would be an inversion sprain; roll it to the inside and you’ve got an eversion sprain.  Both sprains are typically minor, and once the ligaments heal the ankle is fine — no real chance of recurrence.

A high ankle sprain, on the other hand, occurs when the ankle is twisted too far in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction.  This damages the ligaments above the ankle, specifically the ones that attach the ankle to the tibia and fibula (the two bones of the lower leg) as well as the ligaments that attach the tibia and fibula together near the ankle.  Bigger bones, bigger stresses, and bigger problems.

The severity of the sprain depends on whether the tibia and fibula are still where they’re supposed to be.  If they’ve stayed put (as they did in Okung’s case) then the ligaments are mostly intact, and with rest and limited movement the ankle will heal in a couple weeks.  If the leg bones are free to shift around, then the damage is serious enough that the ankle will need surgery and 6+ months of recovery to heal.

Here’s the main, serious difference between a high ankle sprain and an inversion or eversion sprain: once a person has suffered a high ankle sprain, there is a much higher chance that the ankle will be re-injured in the future.  Please note that this doesn’t mean that Okung absolutely will suffer another high ankle sprain.  Many people have suffered the same injury and never had it happen again.  Nevertheless, the possibility is there.

Enough about ligaments, though.  I’m hopeful that we’ll get to see Okung and Andrews bookend the line sooner rather than later, and that both will stay healthy and dependable for many years to come.  But right now, I mainly just hope to see Hasselbeck stay on his feet and off the injury report.

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