Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is quickly becoming one of the most prominent rookies featured in NFL highlights this season, with his stunning last-second heave to beat the Green Bay Packers last month and his touchdown pass to Sidney Rice to beat the New England Patriots in the closing minutes last Sunday.
But in the NFL, a quarterback is only part of the story. He can’t have success without a collection of offensive linemen who can protect him. In Wilson’s case, it’s a little different. He’s being protected by a former defensive lineman — fellow rookie J.R. Sweezy.
While most rookies talk about going through growing pains, few go through an entire transformation. That’s exactly what Sweezy has done as he has switched from playing defensive tackle at NC State, where he was a dominant defender for the Wolfpack, to offensive guard, a position he hadn’t played since he was 8 years old.
“Basically, everything is different,” he says. “Down to the stance. Literally everything. It was quite a challenge.”
But it was one that Sweezy, a seventh-round pick for the Seahawks in last April’s draft, accepted without a second thought if it meant he would get a shot at playing in the NFL.
Sweezy, 23, says the Seahawks were the only team that talked to him about a position change before the draft. He credits Seattle offensive line coach (and assistant head coach) Tom Cable for having the crystal ball that showed Sweezy’s potential as an offensive guard.
“He was the main guy,” says Sweezy, who is 6-foot-5 and weighs 298 pounds. “I think he just saw that I have the body of an offensive lineman with long arms. And I try to play aggressive.”
It’s a move Sweezy says he approached with an open mind and one that he’s still trying to grasp despite his early success — he’s played in all six games and started in one. All the techniques and all of the plays are new to him. And the hardest part, he says, is figuring out when to be aggressive and when to hold back. He says the defensive lineman in the NFL are so good and quick that an offensive lineman can get beat very easily if he’s too aggressive.
Sweezy says he sometimes has to remind himself that he’s on offense and forget his Moorsevill High (N.C.) linebacker role and his standout years as a Wolfpack defensive tackle. But he says it’s something that’s fun and even funny to a certain extent.
He chuckles when asked what his reaction would have been two years ago when he and Wilson were both at State if someone would have told he’d be protecting the quarterback in the NFL.
“I probably would have thought you were lying,” he says.
Sweezy and the Seahawks take on the San Francisco 49ers tonight to kick off Week 7 in the NFL.