The Brewery

A gathering place for sports analysis and opinion with Seattle Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer.

August 12, 2011 at 12:24 PM

Concern over Russell Okung's bad ankles

Posted by Jerry Brewer

Photo Credit: John Lok/The Seattle Times
Russell Okung's talent comes with a catch.

I drive an oversized Caddy SUV. I call it my Tony Soprano mobile, and much like the television character, I have a love/hate relationship with the thing. It's a wonderful car: Dependable, stylish, even imposing. But it has a slow leak in one of the tires, and about once a month, I have to roll down to the gas station, throw a dollar's worth of quarters into a machine, and temporarily fix my bad wheel. Just my luck, the tire always seems to need air on rainy days.

Russell Okung reminds me of my SUV.

He is a treasure -- until something goes wrong with his wheels. The second-year Seahawks left tackle injured his left ankle early in Thursday's exhibition opener at San Diego. He sprained his right ankle in the exhibition opener last year and missed the first three games of the regular season. And then he suffered a left ankle sprain in Week 7 last year and missed three more games. Okung has played 14 of a possible 23 games (counting the preseason) so far in his NFL career. He has exited three of those games early with an ankle injury.

In terms of talent, Okung hasn't disappointed. We've seen plenty of reasons why the Seahawks were right to spend the No. 6 pick of the 2010 NFL draft on the 6-5, 310-pound giant. He's a good athlete, a quick learner and a fierce protector of his quarterback's blind side. I still remember his dominant performance last October in a 23-20 victory over Chicago, which included a pile-pushing assist on a Justin Forsett touchdown run. His talent is legit, and so is his work ethic. It's easy to see him becoming one of the best left tackles of his time.

The only thing that can stop Okung? His ankles, apparently.

And durability is one of the greatest gifts an offensive lineman can have. Okung's predecessor, Walter Jones, had a 10-year stretch in which he didn't miss a game because of injury. He missed four total games during that span. Two were because of a contract holdout in 2002, and the Seahawks kept him out of regular-season finales in 2005 and 2007 because their playoff seeding was set. Legendary O-lineman Bruce Matthews, a Hall of Famer who played guard, center and tackle during his Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans career, once made 229 consecutive starts.

The Seahawks need Okung's health to be a given. But they might have to accept that his ankles will give him problems from time to time. Bad ankles are easy to re-injure. Okung has done and will continue to do everything he can to minimize the problem, but it would be foolish to think, with a job that requires him to crash into large men regularly, that he'll eliminate it.

It's not a question of toughness. Okung once sprained a knee and played in the Cotton Bowl a few days later. Okung can tolerate pain. But his ankles are part of the foundation for his 310-pound frame.

So, for now, you must take Okung for what he is -- a great talent who could be a great player if he can muster the durability. A nice car with a wheel that requires constant attention.

Difference is, I can buy a new tire. Okung and the Seahawks must make the best of his body.

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