For the last few years the Seattle Seahawks have been able to boast one of the premier centers in the NFL. They’ve been without an all-world tight end, and this offseason they decided they could forego the former to add the latter. Max Unger for Jimmy Graham was a blockbuster deal that made the Seahawks better on the whole. But it did open up a significant hole that the ‘Hawks have yet to officially plug.
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From the moment Unger was shipped to New Orleans, there was speculation that the ‘Hawks could be looking for a high-octane replacement up the middle. But we’re now just days from the start of preseason games and the team has made it very clear that they’re going with the guys they’ve got in house. Which, you know, is probably not going to be the end of the world. It’s probably not even a poor decision, given the personnel on hand.
The training camp competition for the Seahawks’ starting center job has come down to two guys: Lemuel Jeanpierre and Drew Nowak. Each of them brings certain traits to the table, and neither is an outright unappealing option. One is new, one has been here before. It’ll be a tough choice for the team to make, and we could get some clues as to the eventual starter in Friday’s game. Until then, let’s speculate!
First, some simple biographies. Jeanpierre was signed by Seattle as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and has appeared in 53 NFL games, eleven times as the starter. The 28-year-old former South Carolina Gamecock is a huge dude at 6’3″ and 312 pounds. He was last seen on the field during the Super Bowl. He’s been a solid backup the last few years who has proven capable of starting when required to do so.
Nowak is a 25-year-old converted defensive lineman who made his first and only two appearances in the NFL as a sub for the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars. He became a center after a series of injuries opened up a potential role for him, and he’s stuck at the position ever since. He’s dealt with injuries throughout his career, but is healthy and playing well while splitting time with Jeanpierre on the first team this preseason.
The two players are physically quite similar, though Jeanpierre is a bit bigger. He’s got a few years on Nowak in age, but he’s also considerably more experienced at the NFL level. Going into camp it was probably safe to assume the job was going to be Jeanpierre’s. But that’s not the case, according to the latest word from Pete Carroll:
"“It’s still very competitive,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Drew is a little bit ahead right now. Lem is ahead in all of the assignments and all that stuff, Drew looks really good physically. We’re just going to keep working it and see what happens.”"
Take out the part of the quote where Carroll verbatim says “Drew is a little bit ahead” and you’d think the competition was a total wash. Jeanpierre is ahead mentally, Nowak is ahead physically. That both these would be true and that the coach would outright say that Nowak is in the lead should say all that needs to be said about how the ‘Hawks want this competition to end.
Jeanpierre has been the backup for years, and it sounds like the Seahawks would like for it to stay that way while giving the new guy a shot to impress as the starter. They think he’s a better physical talent and it stands to reason they like his upside, which should be considerably higher due to his age alone. Of course he’s behind mentally – Jeanpierre has a lot more experience at the position. But that should only be a temporary advantage.
The Seahawks’ have a coaching staff that has made a name for itself in player development. Tom Cable – the man responsible for converting J.R. Sweezy (amongst many others) from defense to offense – is still around, and his track record is pretty amazing. It wasn’t Cable’s call to move Nowak to center, but he will be one of the primary coaches working with Nowak in Seattle. The Seahawks have had great luck with players switching positions. They’re big believers in coachability, and thus probably think that teaching Nowak how to thrive at center is something they’re capable of doing.
The Seattle Seahawks have two strong candidates to be the starting center for their 2015 squad. Lemuel Jeanpierre and Drew Nowak seem pretty evenly matched until you start to look at the team’s values, at which point it becomes clear that they’re probably going to roll with Nowak due to his physical ability. Is he a better center than Jeanpierre? Not yet. But does the team think they can get him there? Yes. For that reason alone he’ll likely be the starter, barring a preseason collapse.