RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks are hoping veteran Evan Brown or rookie Olu Oluwatimi can bring stability to a position that hasn’t had much of it for a while. For most of the past decade, they’ve cycled through centers the way coach Pete Carroll goes through a box of gum on game day. Like the flavor in the coach’s Bubble Yum, almost none of them have lasted very long.
Call it the Max Unger curse.
Unger was the anchor of the Seahawks’ offensive lines during their 2013 and ’14 Super Bowl seasons, a team captain with an All-Pro nod and two Pro Bowls on his resume in Seattle. In 2015, the Seahawks dealt the 28-year-old Unger to the New Orleans Saints in the Jimmy Graham trade, believing his body was breaking down after 13 missed games over the previous two seasons.
Go figure that Unger went on to start all but one game over the next four years with New Orleans and made a Pro Bowl in 2018 before retiring.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have started eight different players at center in the eight seasons since the trade (that includes the one game in 2020 when guard Damien Lewis moved over on a short week). Going back two more years, while Unger was in and out of the lineup, the number increases to 11 -- tied for fifth-most since 2013, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
There have been some cringe-worthy moments, like Drew Nowak’s ill-fated stint as the starter in 2015. In one of the more infamous episodes of the Tom Cable era, Nowak -- a college defensive tackle who was playing center for the first time in his career -- repeatedly struggled with the most fundamental aspect of the job: Snapping the ball.
There’s been some odd misfortune, as well.
In 2020, the Seahawks gave B.J. Finney a two-year, $8 million deal to replace Justin Britt (whom they would release) and Joey Hunt (who had taken over in 2019 after Britt tore his ACL). But Finney, a former undrafted free agent who had yet to cash in, failed to properly train over the offseason out of fear that an injury would cost him his signing bonus. He showed up out of shape and didn’t play an offseason snap before he was traded midseason.
More than anything, there’s been turnover. Of Seattle’s 11 different starters since 2013, only Britt (54) and Ethan Pocic (24) have started more than 20 games at center.
So when Carroll told reporters at the scouting combine that the Seahawks “gotta get the center thing figured out,” all that history seemed like the clear subtext.
Enter Brown and Oluwatimi.
The Seahawks signed the 26-year-old Brown to a one-year, $2.25 million deal that included $1 million guaranteed. Then they drafted Oluwatimi out of Michigan in the fifth round. Hunt is in the mix, as well, but realistically it’s a two-man race to replace veteran Austin Blythe, who spent one season with Seattle before announcing his retirement in February.
Brown took the vast majority of the first-team reps during the three OTAs that have been open to reporters and on Tuesday’s first practice of mandatory minicamp.
“It's going to be a great spot to watch, it really will,” Carroll said last week. “Evan has come in here and commanded the leadership. He has more experience than Olu’s got, so we'll see how that all works out. Joey is an experienced football player too, so we have a really good spot ... We're not going to set any timelines on it or anything like that. It'll work itself out, but Olu's done really nice. He's done a nice job jumping in. He's a really bright kid, and it shows up, and he gets it, and he's confident. You could see him playing.”
Oluwatimi was the sixth center selected and the 154th overall pick, but his decorated college resume belies his draft slot. In his lone season at Michigan, he was a consensus All-American and won both the Rimington Trophy and the Outland Trophy, given annually to the best center in Division I and the nation’s best interior lineman, respectively.
Oluwatimi began his college career at Air Force and transferred after one year to Virginia, where he would start for three seasons. He then transferred as a grad student to Michigan, gaining valuable experience in Jim Harbaugh’s pro-style offense.
“There's nothing that we're doing that he hasn't done,” Carroll said. “Coach Harbaugh's got a great background in running the football in particular. His guys that come out of there, they're equipped, they're well prepared.”
Brown is the type of offensive lineman the Seahawks have typically targeted in free agency: Young, inexpensive and versatile. He primarily played right guard last season for the Detroit Lions. The Seahawks like him better at center, where he made 12 starts in 2021 (plus two more last year) and ranked ninth in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate at that position.
If Brown doesn’t win the center job, his contract still wouldn’t be unreasonable for an interior swing player with starting experience at multiple spots.
“If you can play center, you should be able to play guard,” offensive line coach Andy Dickerson said, “and he’s shown that he’s been able to do that at a good level.”
Carroll cited Oluwatimi’s speedy transition at Michigan as a reason to believe he can play as a rookie. In the same breath, he indicated that they’ll take their time in determining a starter.
After all, they’re not just looking for yet another quick fix.
“He's going to be able to do some stuff,” Carroll said. “I don't know when it'll take place, or if Evan makes the push or he makes the push. But the position is in good hands right now. We're in a good spot.”