N.C. State's Sweezy starts for NFL's Seahawks

Former Wolfpack defensive lineman makes transition to offense for Seattle Seahawks.

csmith@newsobserver.comSeptember 8, 2012 

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SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 11: Guard J.R. Sweezy #64 of the Seattle Seahawks pass blocks against the Tennessee Titans at CenturyLink Field on August 11, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

OTTO GREULE JR. — Getty Images

Have you heard the story about the former N.C. State player who was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks and became a starter on opening day? No, this is not Russell Wilson’s story. While Wilson’s journey to becoming the starting quarterback has been grabbing headlines, the story of J.R. Sweezy is equally as important for the Seahawks.

The former standout Wolfpack defensive tackle was drafted in the seventh round in this year’s NFL draft as an offensive guard – and will start in his first game on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. But the transition hasn’t been as easy as it may appear for Sweezy.

“The best way to put it is that everything is opposite right now,” Sweezy said. “I have to use my hands differently, my footwork is different – it’s just been crazy so far. It was a pretty tough transition, but I’ve had nothing but positive people behind me helping me during this offseason.”

Sweezy played on the defensive line through high school and college, but said he was told that his skills would eventually make him successful as an offensive lineman.

The last time that the Mooresville native lined up on the offensive line was for the Mooresville Warriors – when he was 8 years old.

While the transition hasn’t been perfect, Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable said his defensive work at the high school and college level has benefited him.

“What helps him the most during this transition is understanding defenses,” Cable said. “His knowledge and background as a defensive lineman has helped him to counteract whatever is thrown at him.”

Like many college players entering the draft, Sweezy was unsure when his name would be called in the draft, or if it would be called at all.

After missing the first five games after undergoing surgery for a foot fracture, Sweezy waited until the seventh round, where the Seahawks chose him with pick No. 225.

“When the draft came around, I just wanted a chance,” Sweezy said. “I thought I was going to be a free agent after being injured during my senior year, so my expectations weren’t high. But the Seahawks gave me a chance, so I have to come in here each day and prove myself to them.”

Cable knew Sweezy had the talent, but said even he has been shocked by how quickly he has learned the position.

“He’s had to completely rewire himself, which is difficult for most human beings,” Cable said. “But Sweezy has made the most of his opportunity and has adapted quickly. We’ve been working on that transition from the moment we drafted him until now”

Sweezy’s chance at getting first-team reps came when starting guard John Moffitt suffered an injury to his left elbow on Aug. 9, requiring surgery and sidelining him for the duration of the recovery.

Sweezy then outplayed every other right guard to earn the spot as the opening day starter – including Moffitt when he was healthy.

“J.R. earned it,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said when asked whether Sweezy would have earned the job over a healthy Moffitt. “He did it the old fashion way of hard, tough, day after day ball. We saw glimpses right from the beginning and couldn’t believe he would learn as he learned, but he did.”

After four years with the Wolfpack, three of which were spent with Russell Wilson, Sweezy’s main objective in every practice was to get to Wilson.

Now, after Wilson moved to Madison, Wis., for a year, the two are reunited and on the same side of the ball.

“It’s kind of cool, it’s basically been like blocking for a friend,” Sweezy said with a laugh. “My main objective is to block for whoever is playing quarterback, but blocking for Russell definitely makes it awesome. Who would have thought that I would be blocking for Russell?”

Back in 2010, Sweezy and Wilson lead the defense and offense in several categories. While Wilson was named second-team All-ACC that season, Sweezy led the team in sacks (6) and was second behind Nate Irving in tackles for loss (13) en route to an All-ACC honorable mention.

Cable knows the pressure will be on Sweezy to protect his friend.

“A lot of teams are going to be after Russell and J.R. is going to have to be ready for that,” Cable said. “But if we weren’t comfortable with the fact that he can do it, he wouldn’t be starting week one.”

If this offseason is any indication of what the regular season will bring, the Seahawks have two Wolfpack players who are ready to make a splash in the NFL.

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