Battle-Tested Jake Curhan Holding His Own in Seahawks' Right Tackle Competition – Sports Illustrated

RENTON, Wash. – Becoming an instant starter as a redshirt freshman at California, Jake Curhan experienced immediate success at right tackle facing off against Pac-12 competition.
Thriving in all facets, Curhan only allowed a single sack in 12 starts and helped running back Patrick Laird become the 19th player in school history to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards. While nothing comes easy in the sport of football, he made protecting the quarterback look easy as a four-year starter, allowing only 7.0 sacks on over 1,500 pass blocking reps, earning Honorable Mention All-Pac 12 honors twice along the way.
But after signing with the Seahawks as undrafted free agent last spring, Curhan received a baptism by fire when he stepped into the lineup for an injured Brandon Shell. Starting the final five games at right tackle in the veteran's absence, consistency proved problematic for him in pass protection as he allowed 12 pressures in those contests and received a dismal 37.2 pass blocking grade from Pro Football Focus for the season.
Previously excelling without having to switch up pass sets for the Golden Bears, it didn't take long for Curhan to figure out that the simplicity that worked so effectively for him in college wasn't going to cut it against NFL pass rushers off the edge.
"In college, I would kind of set the same way every single time. And it works because no one was really good enough to figure out how to switch that up," Curhan said prior to Seattle's second training camp practice. "And then [in the NFL], you're asked to do different things, depending on what the plays are, how quick the drop is, how quick the release is, all that sort of stuff. So getting more comfortable varying stuff up, I think is going to be big for me."
Starring in a power five conference, Curhan didn't face slouches rushing off the edge on Saturdays in Berkeley. In fact, he squared off against future first-round picks Kayvon Thibodeaux and Joe Tryon.
But while those matchups provided valuable reps for Curhan going against athletic, NFL-caliber talent, nothing compares to sparring with the best of the best on Sundays. After impressing throughout training camp and earning a spot on the 53-man roster, he learned that lesson the hard way when the Seahawks subbed him in to replace an injured Jamarco Jones at right tackle against the Vikings.
Making his NFL regular season debut in a hostile road environment, Curhan wasn't going to be weened into his first game. On the opposite side of the line stood former All-Pro Danielle Hunter, one of the most feared pass rushers in the league.
As expected from an untested rookie tackle, Curhan endured his share of troubles trying to block Hunter, who has caused problems for many of the NFL's best pass protectors over the years with his elite athleticism and length. In a 30-17 loss, Pro Football Focus charged him with three pressures and a quarterback hit allowed on only 17 pass blocking snaps.
A few months later, with Shell sidelined by a shoulder injury, Curhan returned to the lineup full-time starting in Week 14 with a chance to solidify his standing as a possible long-term option at the position. Several challenges awaited, however, including going up against future Hall of Famer Von Miller, who he cited as the toughest opponent he faced during his rookie season.
In a losing effort to the Rams, Curhan surrendered four pressures. A trio of those coming courtesy of Miller, who put on a clinic with his ability to make several different pass rushing approaches look identical, giving the rookie an eye-opening lesson learning on the job.
"A lot of people say he's lost his step here or there. And I'm sure he has. And I bet that used to be a really, really scary sight," Curhan laughed. "But just the way he played the mental side of things and making things look the same and then doing something different. It was just pretty impressive to a point that I'd never really seen something like that before."
Though Curhan unsurprisingly struggled against Hunter or Miller, he performed admirably in his first extended NFL action and made great progress protecting the quarterback as the calendar flipped to January. In each of his last three starts, he allowed two or fewer pressures in pass protection, a substantial improvement compared to his first two starts.
Bringing a physical, mauling presence to Seattle's front line and frequently winning the positioning battle, the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Curhan also cleaned up in the run game on zone and gap concepts alike. In four of his five starts, running back Rashaad Penny eclipsed 130 rushing yards, including amassing a ridiculous 360 rushing yards and three touchdowns in wins over Detroit and Arizona to close out the season.
During that span, the Seahawks went 3-2 to cap off a disappointing season on a strong note and Penny led the NFL with 671 rushing yards while averaging an insane 7.29 yards per carry.
"When you're coming off the ball and just hitting things the way you're supposed to, and all five guys on the line are doing it and the running back is seeing that and writing it out and then hitting it where it's supposed to end up, it's just a great, great feeling. The more you do it, and the more you have success, it's easier to get through the game. So yeah, that was great to be able to get that."
From Curhan's perspective, it took time for players to adapt to non-traditional techniques taught by offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and offensive line coach Andy Dickerson. Compared to how many of them had been coached earlier in their respective careers, these approaches even sometimes felt "counterintuitive," which made transitioning a lengthy process for everyone in the trenches.
But once the offensive line started to gel and a healthy Penny found his groove, everything started to click and the balanced offensive attack coach Pete Carroll has always desired emerged. After struggling to score points for much of the season, the Seahawks averaged 31.2 points per game in the final month, nearly 10 points more than their season average.
"It takes time to get used to repping that and get used to trusting it too," Curhan remarked. "And I think really what you saw happen at the end of the year last year was all of the guys on the line trusting the techniques that Shane and Andy brought with them with offense, and then the running backs also trusting their reads and their running patterns and it kind of came together exactly how it's supposed to be."
Looking back at his rookie season, the trials and tribulations Curhan endured against the likes of Hunter and Miller already look to be serving him well. In the early stages of his second training camp, he has manned the right tackle spot with Seattle's first-team offense in four of the first five practice sessions.
With a mock scrimmage coming up on Saturday at Lumen Field and the first preseason game in Pittsburgh right around the corner, the next few weeks will be crucial for Curhan, as he will have to fend off two worthy competitors in third-round pick Abraham Lucas and second-year tackle Stone Forsythe. At some point, Lucas will get his first crack at playing with the first unit, while Forsythe already has seen some snaps with the projected starters and should receive more opportunities.
But while Curhan lacks the athleticism Lucas and Forsythe bring to the table, he's a technician in pass protection and his impact helping Seattle get back to its bread and butter running the football late last season can't be overlooked. Now the "seasoned veteran" in the tackle group after surviving a crash course tutorial in the trenches last season, as long as he plays within himself and with better consistency in all aspects, he likes his chances of maintaining a starting spot.
"There were definitely some things to clean up. But you know, at the end of the day, it's all kind of football, right? Guys might be a little bit faster, stronger, have better technique. So you just got to elevate your game to that. I think I've learned a lot more than anything else both about myself and what I need to get better at, and then also about what it's like to actually play in the NFL. I think it just put me in a better spot for this year to have more confidence going in."


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