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Danny O'Neil covers the Seahawks for The Seattle Times.

June 27, 2012 at 10:11 AM

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En guarde: Seahawks like the look of rookie OLs Rishaw Johnson, J.R. Sweezy

For two years, the Seahawks invested some of their most important draft picks on the big men up front of the offense.

Russell Okung was chosen No. 6 overall in 2010, the first player picked under the Pete Carroll/John Schneider junta, and last year the Seahawks spent their first two choices on offensive linemen James Carpenter and John Moffitt.

But 2011 showed that you never know where you're going to find -- or for that matter need -- able-bodied hosses to hold down the line.

How many people projected Breno Giacomini to play such a significant role in 2011? He didn't appear as so much in a single game in 2010 after the Seahawks signed him off the Packers' practice squad. A former fifth-round pick from Louisville, Giacomini blossomed under offensive line coach Tom Cable to the point that Seattle signed him to a two-year contract because it was afraid of losing him in free agency.

And then there was Pat McQuistan, who didn't finish 2009 on an NFL roster. He was added in February, and while much was made of the fact he played for Cable in Oakland, Cable was also the offensive line coach when the Raiders cut McQuistan. He also emerged.

Entering training camp, those two are slotted to begin with the first-unit of the line, which looks like this:

Russell OkungPaul McQuistanMax UngerJohn MoffittBreno Giacomini

Carpenter likely will begin training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list as he recovers from last year's knee injury. Seattle added experienced backups in the offseason, signing Frank Omiyale after he was released by Chicago, and adding former first-round pick Alex Barron after a tryout. Deuce Lutui is in better shape than he's been either of the past two offseasons, and could also be a contributor.

Lemuel Jeanpierre is the backup center, who started at guard toward the end of last season, and then there are going to be the rookies to consider, and yes, that's going to be rookies with an 's' to indicate plural.

The Seahawks chose J.R. Sweezy from North Carolina State in the seventh round, and have converted him from defensive tackle into an offensive guard. When the rookie minicamp ended in early May, coach Pete Carroll gave a very positive review.

"The experiment with J.R. was obvious that we're on the right track," Carroll said. "He's very aggressive and carried over the defensive mentality that you'd hope he would have."

Now, it's quite an adjustment that Sweezy is making, and he will have to learn something as simple as anticipating the snap count instead of reacting to it as he did on defense.

The other rookie who made a strong first impression was Rishaw Johnson, an undrafted free agent signed from California (Pa.) University, which is the same college where the Seahawks found quarterback Josh Portis a year ago.

Carroll singled out Johnson first after the rookie minicamp in May.

"Showed some tremendous stuff," Carroll said.

By June, Johnson even got a few repetitions with the first-unit offense.

"We liked him going through the later rounds of the draft," Carroll said. "He's just a long ways down the road of understanding how to play the game."

He's also come a long ways, that's for sure. He's from Louisiana, and started his college career at Ole Miss where he was a starter by his sophomore season. He started four games in 2009 before he was suspended for violating team rules. He did not play the rest of the year to focus on team rules.

He was back on the team the following year only to be dismissed in September for another violation of team rules. The reason was never disclosed by the school, and he transferred to California University, the same Division II school where Portis played.

A year after Portis was one of three undrafted rookies to make the Seahawks' opening-day roster, could Johnson follow suit?

Rishaw Johnson makes strong first impression
By Clare Farnsworth |

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