Looking to spark a struggling offensive line, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Wednesday that veteran center Ethan Pocic will receive snaps against the Jaguars in Sunday's Week 8 contest at Lumen Field.
Carroll wouldn't confirm whether or not Pocic would start in place of Kyle Fuller, but he didn't rule out the possibility either. The fifth-year veteran recently was reactivated to the 53-man roster after a three-week stint on injured reserve with a knee injury and has dressed each of the past two games.
"It's competitive," Carroll said when asked about the state of the center position. "Ethan deserves a chance to get out there and so we look forward to him playing some this week."
Entering the offseason, center was widely viewed as one of Seattle's biggest areas of concern. In 2020, Pocic started 14 games at the pivot position with Fuller serving as his primary backup, but many analysts expected the team to pursue an upgrade such as Corey Linsley in free agency or through the draft. The 2021 class featured several prominent center prospects, including Oklahoma standout Creed Humphrey.
But instead, the Seahawks opted to stay the course, re-signing Pocic to a one-year deal and bringing back Fuller as an exclusive rights free agent. They also bypassed the chance to draft Humphrey, instead using their second-round pick on Western Michigan receiver Dee Eskridge. The only moves the team made to address the position were signing undrafted rookie Pier Olivier-Lestage and claiming Dakoda Shepley off waivers from the 49ers in early September.
Heading into training camp, Carroll expected Pocic and Fuller to battle for the starting role, but those plans had to be scrapped when a lingering hamstring injury cost Pocic nearly all of training camp and all three preseason games. Winning the job by default, Fuller played the bulk of snaps in a Week 1 win over the Colts and Pocic exited in the second half with a knee injury.
When asked if things have panned out how he envisioned, Carroll responded, "No, of course not," lamenting that Pocic's injury prevented him and Fuller from partaking in the competition he hoped to see play out in camp.
"I had anticipated that it would be a battle and we would have a classic competition," Carroll stated. "It didn't work out that way. He had to step aside because he was hurt and Kyle took over and has worked really hard at that spot and done alright. But Ethan deserves to play."
Through the first seven games amid a disappointing 2-5 start, the Seahawks have allowed 3.3 sacks per game, 27th worst in the NFL. They also rank 17th on ESPN's Pass Block Win Rate metric and per Pro Football Focus, the offensive line has allowed 77 pressures, or 11 pressures per game.
Most shockingly, veteran tackle Duane Brown has seen a substantial dip in his performance, allowing 15 pressures and a league-high 5.0 sacks over the past five games. Fuller ranks second on the team behind him with 13 pressures allowed and has surrendered a pair of sacks, tied for the second-most among centers. He already has four games this year scoring lower than a 40.0 grade in pass protection from Pro Football Focus and has also been inconsistent in the run game.
From Carroll's perspective, communication problems up front have been a major factor behind Seattle's struggles protecting Russell Wilson and Geno Smith. In recent games, Brown could be seen expressing visible frustration on the field after delayed snaps or missed blitz pickups and Carroll hopes re-opening the competition between Pocic and Fuller will help lead to improvements with protection calls and other communication pertinent to the rest of the line and quarterback.
"We have to be more consistently on it on the calls and stuff. We can get better there," Carroll remarked. "In that sense, the competition is still open and it's important that we get a chance to see how Ethan does and how Kyle does in response and all that. It's a very important position for Shane's background. It's been a really important position for that guy to command what's going on and assist the quarterback in all ways, so we're still working at it."
Depending on how Sunday plays out, Pocic could work his way back into the starting lineup for the rest of the season. But this isn't what the Seahawks intended to happen at center and making a potential midseason switch would be the latest sign that the organization may have made a mistake not pursuing superior alternatives such as Linsley or Humphrey in the spring.