This is the second part of a three-part series looking at the Seahawks’ first three draft picks in the 2009 NFL Draft. Last week, Devon highlighted Deon Butler. Next week, Devon will feature fourth overall pick, Aaron Curry.
If you were to look up the phrase “character guy with excellent skill” in Tim Ruskell’s draft dictionary, it would read “see: Unger, Max, center, University of Oregon”.
“Unger played every position on the offensive line at Oregon—he was a fine tackle, a better guard and best, a center,” said Ken Woody, The (Eugene) Register-Guard’s Oregon Duck analyst, in an interview with me last week. “I have a daughter who is just graduating from the U of O this fall. I would like it if Unger were dating her. He is smart, kind, ambitious, a loyal and generous team mate and can see beyond the, for now, bright lights of football. I have the utmost respect for him.”
The Seahawks traded their third and fourth round picks (69TH and 105TH overall) to the Bears to take Unger, a two-time All-Pac 10 First Team selection during his final two seasons at Oregon, with the 17TH pick of the second round, 49TH overall.
“His footwork was fantastic, and his athleticism and grace in the open field was really something to behold,” said Woody. “He was a big man who was very effective operating in the wide open spaces, which is often a problem for a big offensive lineman who might better appreciate the more tightly-compacted areas of the ‘trenches.’”
Unger could see immediate, regular playing time for the Seahawks in 2009 thanks to his skills and because of a current group of aging linemen that were plagued by injuries last season. All-Pro left tackle Walter Jones missed four weeks, while starting right tackle Sean Locklear and starting center Chris Spencer each missed five weeks. One of last year’s big offseason signings for the Seahawks, guard Mike Wahle, missed six weeks. The other starting guard, Rob Sims missed all but the first game of the season, a 34 to 10 loss at Buffalo.
“In his four years at Oregon, he started all 51 games,” said Rob Moseley, The (Eugene) Register-Guard’s Oregon Duck football beat writer, in an interview with me last week. “Obviously he didn’t go four years without being injured; he just played through all the bumps and bruises. Rarely even missed practice, really”
Unger also has experience as taking charge and being an on-the-field extension of the coaching staff.
“I think guys liked playing alongside him, and coaches really appreciated him. As the center he was obviously the conduit for all the line calls, and he was a team captain, so leadership is a strength,” said Moseley.
Being the focal point of one of the country’s most potent spread offenses didn’t get to his head though.
“Unger was thoughtful and intense, and although a very articulate speaker and often requested for interviews, did not monopolize the stage with the rest of the offensive linemen,” said Ken Woody.
While receiving heavy praise from writers and draft scouting services, Unger did receive his fair share of knocks.
One of them is that he is inexperienced with under-the-center snap exchanges between himself and a quarterback because Oregon ran the spread offense, an offense that relies on the shotgun snap. Woody believes though that it isn’t something that should be worried about.
“I would be careful of making too much about the ‘under-the-center snap exchanges’. A center and quarterback can usually work it out between them in about 15 minutes.”
While Unger is versatile and has already received time during organized team activities at multiple positions with the Seahawks, his size was something that was questioned heading up to the draft.
“My understanding was always that Max wasn’t the strongest, most physical center, compared with a guy like Alex Mack at Cal,” said Rob Moseley. “That would lead me to believe he might not make a great NFL guard. And he doesn’t have the most massive frame, like some of the gigantic tackles you see in the pros.”
New Seahawks coach Jim Mora clearly disagrees with that assessment, as he previously told The Seattle Times that Unger will see a lot of time at left guard.
A final argument against Unger is his ability to drive block; however, Moseley wasn’t so quick to make that assessment himself.
“Again, his reputation was that he was athletic but not the most powerful guy. But Oregon played the spread; they didn’t do any drive blocking here, so that’s really hard to say.”
Woody would take the assessment that scouting services gave with a grain of salt.
“That kind of information would probably come from a pro football scout and would be based more on the fact that Oregon is completely a zone blocking team and do not do much, if any, ‘drive blocking.’ It’s kind of ironic, because there are hardly any teams in the NFL who drive block, either, it’s all zone blocking of one kind or another. Defensive linemen are too good of athletes to dominate with drive blocking. If the Seahawks require drive blocking and their line coach is worth his salt, Unger can be a solid drive blocker also.”
An offensive lineman with experience in zone blocking? That’s just what the Seahawks need due to new Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.
Knapp, his zone blocking scheme, and his one-cut style of running game play calling, have routinely put the offenses that he coaches on the map for their ability to produce with their running games.
It will be interesting to follow Unger’s progression through the training camp and the regular season, as the Seahawks try to quarterback protection and to resurrect a running attack that has sputtered since Shaun Alexander’s 2005 season with the Seahawks, when he accumulated 1880 yards and he broke the NFL single-season rushing touchdown record by getting into the end zone 27 times.