Monday, May 12, 2008

Wahle dominates for Seahawks

By Danny O'Neil

May 9, 2008

Guard Brick Wahle brings grit to Hawks

KIRKLAND — Mike Wahle didn't play much for coach Mike Holmgren 10 years ago.

Not on Sundays, anyway.

Wahle was a rookie with Green Bay in 1998, playing only one game after he was drafted from a service academy known for producing officers, not offensive linemen.

He mostly just practiced that first season in Green Bay, but he made an impression. It is one Wahle has reinforced during a 10-year NFL career.

When he was released by Carolina in February, his old coach came calling to plug him in at left guard, the position that was Seattle's sore spot for two years running (or more accurately, in the two years Seattle has struggled to run).

"We needed a player like Mike," Holmgren said.

Someone who's strong and savvy and plays with a snarl.

Wahle's arrival in the NFL constitutes proof of his white-knuckle toughness. He lost 30 pounds in the eight weeks of boot camp before he got to the Naval Academy and then rebuilt himself into an NFL prospect in just three seasons. He has a shaved head and a personality as strong as his 6-foot-6, 304-pound frame, and prompted at least one comparison to a certain lineman who has been so conspicuous in his absence from the Seahawks these past two years.

"He's the closest thing to Hutch we've had in a long time," said longtime Seahawk Chris Gray, Seattle's backup guard and center.

Two years have passed since Steve Hutchinson left for Minnesota, and still the position remains defined by the man who used to play it in Seattle. The Pro Bowl player with the thick neck and short temper is inevitably going to be the yardstick Wahle will be measured by.

Short-yardage situations haven't been the only shortcomings for Seattle these past two seasons. The Seahawks have missed a personality up front, too, because three years ago the offensive line was this team's nerve center. Hutchinson provided a mile-wide streak of orneriness. Robbie Tobeck served as its sense of humor.

"You lose Tobeck, who would never shut up," Holmgren said, "and then you lose some of the other guys who were a little more vocal. You need somebody to come and kind of be like that."

Holmgren's hope is Wahle will be that somebody, a faith based on the toughness that put Wahle into the NFL in the first place.

Coming out of high school in California, Wahle had one school offering a Division I-A opportunity. That was Navy, which included boot camp as part of its package deal. It cost Wahle 30 pounds partly because a member of his training cadre was not particularly fond of football players. He decided Wahle didn't need to eat anything more than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at every meal.

Combine that with a training regimen that began with an 8-mile run before breakfast, and Wahle ended up a stick figure.

"Going through boot camp is something that everybody should have to do once," Wahle said. "Honestly. It's one of those things. It's certainly not a choice I would personally like to make, but it's a great experience."

The exit wasn't as grueling, but it wasn't easy, either. Wahle left after his junior season, excused from his service commitment after reaching what he described as a financial settlement with the Navy. He wrote a pretty big check.

So Wahle left the academy and was granted entry into the NFL's supplemental draft. There's no television coverage, no build up. Teams don't call out picks in order. Rather, they're asked to submit a bid, indicating which round they would choose a certain player available in the draft. The lowest bid gets that player with the team that chooses him sacrificing a pick in that round in the subsequent year's draft.

When Wahle awoke the day of the supplemental draft in 1998, he didn't even know what time it began.

"I think I woke up at like 7:30," he said. "I was eating breakfast and they called me. It was a pretty good deal."

He was picked by the Packers with a second-round designation, chosen in Holmgren's final season as Packers coach. Wahle played one game that first season under Holmgren. He hardly saw the sideline, in fact. He and Matt Hasselbeck were two of four players who were usually waived the Friday before the game and re-signed afterward.

But Holmgren saw something in Wahle that season. A toughness that has carried him to a long career and a trait the Seahawks feel they've been missing on the front line these past two seasons.

"He brings an attitude," Holmgren said.

"If you look at our offensive line, those five guys are all a little different," Hasselbeck said, "and he definitely brings something to the team that we didn't have before."

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