RENTON – On the cross-country plane ride home, Seattle coach Pete Carroll and offensive lineman J.R. Sweezy started talking about the difference a year can make.
It was this time a year ago that Sweezy, a defensive lineman in college, made his NFL debut along the offensive line to disastrous reviews. He started at guard again Sunday as the Seahawks opened the 2013 season at Carolina and received much better, if not stellar, assessments.
Just as with Sweezy, there are two ways to look at the offensive line against Carolina: It was better than the opener a year ago, or it still wasn’t good enough, especially early in the game.
“We’re improving,” Carroll said. “It didn’t really show up for us in this first game, but it will in the long haul. It will pay off.”
The consensus is that Seattle lost the battle up front against a ferocious Carolina defense. The Panthers held the Seahawks to just 70 rushing yards and spent much of the day crashing the pocket on Russell Wilson, then chasing him once he scrambled.
Carolina’s defensive front is respected — “They’ll hold down the run all year long,” Carroll said. “I think they’re that good” – but the challenge of running the ball doesn’t get any easier with the 49ers coming to town Sunday.
What’s hard to tell was how much of Wilson’s scrambling was a result of pressure and how much was just the way he likes to play. Carroll said the offensive line was simply “air-balling on guys” in the opener a year ago, which didn’t happen Sunday against the Panthers.
“Right now, scrambling is inherent to how we play,” Carroll said. “We look forward to what the results are. That’s something we really try to be good at.”
Keep in mind Wilson’s numbers — 320 yards passing, a touchdown and hitting on 24 of his final 28 passes — so it’s hard to say the Seahawks’ passing game struggled.
But Wilson also faced heavy pressure in the first half.
“We really settled down in pass protection and picked stuff up as the game went on,” Carroll said. “And Russell took advantage of that.”
James Carpenter and Paul McQuistan split the snaps at left guard.
Carroll said it was good to see Carpenter play so much, but the former first-round choice also struggled at times.
Carroll said the entire offensive line wound up “doing all right.”
• DE Cliff Avril is a “good possibility” to play against San Francisco barring any setbacks during practice, according to Carroll.
• CB Brandon Browner (hamstring) could return to practice Thursday and is a possibility to play against the 49ers.
• DE Chris Clemons will start practicing this week but is not expected to be able to play. Carroll said it could be a couple more weeks, but the Seahawks don’t really know yet.
• The Seahawks limited WR Sidney Rice, who hadn’t practiced much during the preseason, against Carolina. He made two catches. “We had planned not to overdo it with him,” Carroll said. “We just wanted to get him back out there. He seems OK today. That’s a good sign. We’ll see how he handles the week. That was a lot to ask of him, and he handled it all right.”