Seahawks Have Found a Gem in Damien Lewis

Having never played center before, it would have been understandable if Thursday's game against the Cardinals became an unmitigated disaster for Lewis. But while mistakes were made, the rookie still excelled as a run blocker and came through in a big way for a short-handed Seahawks, continuing to prove he's a long-term keeper.
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Over the nine seasons that Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson have been together, things have not been very consistent along the offensive line, especially at right guard. Since 2012, guys like Paul McQuistan, J.R. Sweezy, Germain Ifedi, Oday Aboushi, and D.J. Fluker have been starters at the position. It's been something of a revolving door.

One of the keys to success to any offensive line unit is continuity and Seattle has had very little of it over the last nine years. 

But it looks like they have finally found a cornerstone piece at right guard for years to come in 2020 third round pick Damien Lewis. The potential was clear from the beginning as Lewis was one of the biggest bullies along the offensive line for one of the greatest college football teams ever assembled in the 2019 LSU Tigers, who ran the table, scored a billion points, and won the national title. 

Through the first nine games, Lewis played as solid as a first-year starter at right guard as anyone could have asked of the rookie. He earned two grades north of 77.0 according to Pro Football Focus during the first nine games of his NFL career and has an average grade of 75.8, ranking among the best graded rookies at any position.

Then things got downright weird ahead of Thursday's prime time showdown for first place in the NFC West with the Cardinals. Ethan Pocic suffered a concussion and backup center Kyle Fuller had a high ankle sprain ahead of the game, which forced Seattle's coaching staff to shuffle the deck around and try something of an experiment. They put Lewis, who had never played center before in his life, after playing all 28 games of his LSU career at right guard, in to snap the ball to Russell Wilson in a critical divisional game.

Given that it was a short week, Seattle was unable to have a full-speed practice, which made Lewis’ task at learning center on the fly that much harder. His first full speed snap at center came when he lined up opposite the Cardinals' defensive line. Yes, there were hiccups, with a bobbled snap and a few penalties, but given the enormous task he was handed on such short notice, Lewis handled it like a total pro, wowing coach Pete Carroll.

"He's such a good athlete," Carroll commented. "It was a marvelous job by him to pull that off. He started working it last week. He had been taking snaps during the early season and stuff, but he really, because of the injuries last week, he had to get ready to maybe to back up and so now he's forced into action and he pulled it off. So, and what an effort. He's a really, really good football player. He's really smart, and he's so poised, it just, he handled it really well and he'll only get better. That just makes him that much more versatile."

According to Pro Football Focus, Thursday night's big win was Lewis' fourth-best game as a run blocker and sixth-best overall. All while being asked to play a position he had never played before, as a rookie, against a 6-3 Cardinals team, under the bright lights of Thursday Night Football. Center is the most demanding position along the offensive line. They must call out protections and adjustments to the blocking scheme and pick up blitzes, all while needing to deliver a flawless snap to the quarterback with a defensive linemen foaming at the mouth inches away from your face. Lewis had to do all this while learning on the fly. 

The former LSU Tiger is a straight up mauler when the Seahawks want to run the ball. He has an overall run blocking grade of 89.1 and half of his 10 games started have resulted in a grade better than 80 when run blocking, including at center. This manifested on Thursday when Seattle ran for 165 yards, the second-highest total of the 2020 season. 

Pass blocking was not as strong for Lewis, but with all he was asked to do, he should be forgiven. Besides, if anyone's opinion matters on Lewis' performance, it should be his quarterback and captain, Wilson himself.

"I thought he was super confident. He adjusted throughout the game. He made great calls. We were on the same page, me and him," Wilson said. "There was a couple plays here and there, but I thought that to be a rookie, to play, be such a great guard, and then have to move to center this game and not knowing what's going to happen here and I thought he did a tremendous job. He's one of my favorite rookies on the team just because of how, his approach to the game. He's even keel, he's steady, he's focused, he's ready to roll every week, and he's a tremendous player for us."

Seattle has truly found a gem in Lewis. He is young, strong, and smart. There is no reason (health willing) why he could not only be in the starting lineup for the next half-decade or longer in Seattle, but also play at a Pro Bowl level. He may not be asked to play center again, but the fact that he was able to take on such an enormous task on short notice and excel as he did speaks volumes to his natural ability combined with his work ethic.

Seahawks fans and coaches should be able to sleep well at night knowing Lewis is on their team and will be a force on that offensive line for years to come.