When it comes to experimenting with versatility and unique physical and athletic traits, the Seahawks have never shied away from trying players out at different positions under coach Pete Carroll.
Back in 2012, Seattle used a seventh-round pick on North Carolina State defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy. As a rookie, he transitioned to the offensive line and became a full-time starter one year later. Three years later, the franchise made a similar move with Kristjan Sokoli, a 2015 sixth-round pick who moved from defensive tackle to guard and appeared in one game. In that same draft, they used another sixth-round pick on defensive end Obum Gwacham, who had moved from receiver to the defensive line in his final season at Oregon State.
Now, the Seahawks are in the midst of making a similar move with rookie Stephen Sullivan, who was drafted in the seventh round as a tight end back in April and made the shift to defensive end a few weeks ago.
At 6-foot-5, 248 pounds, Sullivan has the typical build of an athletic edge rusher and in college, LSU coach Ed Orgeron always joked about moving him to the defensive line. But he hasn't played defense since starring at Donaldson High School and initially enrolled with the Tigers as a receiver before the team transitioned him to tight end.
Still, his size and athleticism intrigued the Seahawks, as he met nearly all of the team's thresholds at the 2020 NFL Combine, including posting a 1.65 second 10-yard split on his 40-yard dash and jumping 36 1/2 inches in the vertical jump. With numerous tight ends in front of him on the depth chart, the coaching staff decided to test him out as a developmental pass rusher.
Right away, Sullivan, now sporting the No. 48 on his practice jersey, left a strong first impression on defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., who felt the rookie hit the ground running on the field once given the opportunity.
“You look at Sully [Sullivan], he has that length, that speed, and that look of the great pass rushers,” Norton Jr. said earlier this month. “He has a lot of good speed and when you have the ability to develop on the practice squad like we do, you do what you can to try to make sure guys can help you in all these positions.”
Such a drastic positional switch normally would take extensive time before the player would be ready to jump into game action. And as exhibited by the failed experiments with Sokoli and Gwacham, among others, these types of moves don't often pan out and success stories such as Sweezy are more an exception than the norm.
But after previously telling reporters this week would be a critical one for Sullivan, Carroll and Norton Jr. have been blown away by how quickly the rookie has acclimated to his new pass rushing role, and with Seattle struggling to muster pressure on opposing quarterbacks, a promotion to the active roster could be in the cards much sooner than anticipated.
"He's getting really close to being able to be out there," Carroll said when asked about Sullivan on Friday. "He's remarkably picked up a bunch of stuff in his rush technique and style and he's done some really good stuff, so we'll see what happens with that."
As crazy as such a premise may have sounded even two weeks ago, with starting defensive end Benson Mayowa battling through a sore ankle and Carlos Dunlap unable to play until next week due to COVID-19 protocols, there's a chance Sullivan could receive a call-up for game day against the 49ers on Sunday.
Such a decision would need to be made on Saturday and though the team has numerous injuries to work around, Carroll didn't dismiss the possibility. With limited options on the practice squad and the inability to sign a player off the streets to suit up in quick order, they may have no choice but to throw the athletic rookie into the fire and see what he can do.
"We'll see what happens with that. There's a lot depending on who's up, who's down. There's a lot going on this week.'