James Carpenter is about to embark on the most important season of his professional career with the Seattle Seahawks. To quote an old Elvis Presley song, “It’s Now or Never” for Carpenter.
The selection of Carpenter surprised many experts in the 2011 NFL Draft. Gabe Carimi, the offensive lineman from Wisconsin, seemed like the logical choice if the Seahawks wanted a right tackle, but it was Carpenter who was selected, much to the surprise of everyone, including his coach at Alabama, Nick Saban.
Carpenter was handed the gig on draft day and showed up to training camp out of shape, in part thanks to the lockout that lasted all through the summer. He looked like an overweight rookie and played like it, especially struggling in pass protection.
The Seahawks offensive line actually improved by leaps and bounds in 2011 when Carpenter and fellow rookie John Moffitt, who had formed the right side of that unit, suffered season-ending injuries less than a week apart. Carpenter blew out his knee on November 16 in a pass protection drill during practice.
The torn ACL that Carpenter suffered also meant his 2012 season would be in jeopardy, but he worked hard to rehabilitate his knee and found himself back on the field in late September, this time starting at what appears to be a much more natural position for him – left guard.
However, as any Seahawks fan who watched all of the games can tell you, Carpenter was not anywhere close to 100 percent. H still seemed slow and had a noticeable limp at too many times. Team doctors can say whatever they want about Carpenter being medically cleared to play, but the fans watching the games knew that it was clear Carpenter wasn’t ready to return to the field.
Maybe it was wishful thinking, but expecting a 321 pound offensive lineman, who looked much heavier, to be ready to perform at a high level over 10 months removed from major surgery seemed unrealistic.
After aggravating his surgically-repaired knee in early December, which did not require additional surgery, the Seahawks mercifully shut him down in hopes that he will be healthy and be the team’s starting left guard from day one of the 2013 season.
Carpenter will finally be able to train with the team all off-season with no limitations for the first time in his career. He doesn’t have to worry about being locked out or not being healthy. There are no more excuses, and 2013 will be the season that defines if he was a worthy first-round draft choice as a solid starting left guard in the NFL, or if he will simply become known as a “bust.”
The Seahawks have been a turnstile of mediocre left guard play since Steve Hutchinson left town in 2006. Carpenter is hoping to become the new king at the position for the Seahawks, and is hoping that his time is now instead of never.