Rookie Justin Britt a good fit on Seahawks’ offensive line
Justin Britt wanted to be a tight end in high school but his coaches saw a growing teenager who would make a better offensive tackle and moved him there.
Seattle Times staff reporter
RENTON – Seahawks rookie Justin Britt thought of himself as a tight end. His coaches at Lebanon (Mo.) High School had other ideas.
They saw a rapidly growing sophomore they thought would eventually make a good offensive tackle a couple hours up the road at the University of Missouri.
“It was just obvious to us that the transition from being an average tight end to maybe a potential college offensive tackle made total sense,’’ said Lebanon coach Will Christian.
Britt, though, was reluctant. So the coaches offered a deal — a football-catching contest between Britt and the team’s other tight end, Jake O’Quinn. Whoever won got to stay at tight end.
Only, Britt insists, the game was rigged.
“They had it planned so the other tight end, they would throw him softballs and he would catch it, and for me they would throw bullets over my head or on the ground,’’ Britt says. “I think I might have caught one out of 20 or whatever. But after that, they moved me to the line, and the rest is history.’’
Last week, Britt started at right tackle for the defending Super Bowl-champion Seahawks against Green Bay in his first NFL game.
It was a big moment in Lebanon, where Britt is the first native to make it to the NFL in the modern era. There was a Justin Britt Day in June, and the town will retire his jersey in a ceremony during the Seahawks’ bye week later this month.
“In a normal year, we’d be about 70 percent Chiefs fans, 30 percent Rams fans,’’ Christian said. “But right now I would say it’s about 99 percent Seahawks fans.’’
Christian chuckles at the story of how Britt became an offensive tackle, saying, “He talks about such a drill. I don’t really remember such a drill. The head coach (Christian himself) had kind of already made his mind up, regardless.’’
Britt adjusted quickly to his new role and played so well at a camp at the University of Missouri in the summer before his senior year that the Missouri coaches offered a scholarship the day after it ended.
Britt accepted within days, and ended up becoming a three-year starter for the Tigers and earning All-SEC first-team honors last season.
As the 2014 draft neared, though, Britt didn’t know what to think.
“I heard it all,’’ said Britt, 6 feet 6 and 325 pounds. “That I’d go in the second or third round, that I’d be a free agent, that I’d go in the fifth to seventh. I was just sitting there waiting. I had no idea.’’
He was waiting with his wife, Alicia, and daughter, Navy Noelle, something the Seahawks later cited as a reason for surprising both draftniks and Britt himself by taking him with the 64th overall pick at the end of the second round.
“He’s got his priorities in line,’’ offensive-line coach Tom Cable said on draft day. “He’s no-nonsense. Just wants to get better every day.’’
It was assumed then that Britt would compete with Michael Bowie for the starting right-tackle job that opened when Breno Giacomini signed with the Jets as a free agent. Early in camp, though, Bowie suffered a shoulder injury, was waived as injured and was surprisingly signed by the Cleveland Browns.
Seattle signed veteran free agent Eric Winston to compete with Britt. But Britt maintained his hold on the job throughout camp, and Winston was released in the cutdown to 53.
Entering the Green Bay game, many analysts wondered how he’d hold up against veteran pass rushers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers.
Cable says Britt still has lots to learn about the intricacies of the position. But he had no worries about how Britt would handle the situation, saying, “I don’t think it’s too big for him.’’
Seattle gave Britt some help, often assigning tight end Zach Miller to the right side. But Britt more than held his own. The respected football analytic site Pro Football Focus judged that he turned in the fourth-best performance by a tackle in Week One.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll later remarked how relaxed Britt appeared, at one point coming to the sideline laughing.
“I’ve always been that way,’’ Britt said. “I’m serious. But whenever I’m off the field, I’m having fun. It’s just, why wouldn’t I try to enjoy it? It’s not every day you get to play in the NFL, so I’m just trying to enjoy it all.’’
• Safety Earl Thomas said he didn’t argue with Carroll about the decision to remove him as the primary punt returner but said he hopes to get another shot at it.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the team,’’ Thomas said. “So I just took it that way. I’m all in, no matter what the situation is. B-Walt (Bryan Walters), he’s a great returner, he deserves it, he’s been working hard. It doesn’t always happen like you want it to. But I know I’m still up as far as situationally and I’ll always be prepared. I know I’m going to impact this team as far as punt return in a positive way.’’
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.