“We were fortunate to have him and he was fortunate to be here where we could help him. Russell was always, ‘What can I do to get better?'”
The 25-year-old Okung took up mixed martial arts during the offseason to improve his quickness, agility and flexibility.
“You could never work him hard enough whether it was us or Coach (Rob) Glass,” Wickline said. “He never said a word other than ‘Yes, sir,' or ‘No, sir.' He was always, ‘Let's go.' You could tell in his mind he was looking beyond us. His goal was to be good at the next level.”
Craves facing elite opponents
Wickline, at first, was puzzled. How could an offensive lineman as talented as Okung have some of his worst games against mediocre defensive linemen?
“I was like, ‘What's the deal?'” Wickline said. “As silly as it sounds if he wasn't challenged he sometimes might have a letdown. His best games were against players that provided the biggest challenge, All-Americans, All-Big 12 players.
“That's why I always thought he'd probably be more consistent as a pro because every week he would face a franchise guy, a big money player. On that level he's challenged every single week.”
After being picked sixth overall in the 2010 draft, which was coach Pete Carroll's first draft with the Seahawks, Okung signed a six-year contract worth $30 million guaranteed, a deal that could be worth up to $58 million.
Okung's primary job is to protect rookie quarterback Russell Wilson's blind side. Okung was among the league leaders in penalties (12), but Wickline said that's not necessarily a negative.
“Most great linemen have the ability to make quick decisions,” Wickline said. “The way he views it, ‘You're not going to touch my quarterback no matter what it takes.'”
Seattle faced six of the NFL's top 10 players in sacks. Aldon Smith (San Francisco), Clay Matthews (Green Bay), Cameron Wake (Miami), Charles Johnson (Carolina), Jared Allen (Minnesota) and Julius Peppers (Carolina) combined for 83.5 sacks.
Okung gave up one sack all season. He credited Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable for helping him play at a high level.
“He fixed a couple of technique issues I had,” Okung said. “Really, we just started over. He kind of brought me back to how I used to be in college.”
Okung started 47 games at OSU. He registered 317 knockdowns during his career, including 48 touchdown producing blocks. In his senior year, he allowed only one sack on 336 pass plays.
He showed flashes of being an elite linemen his first two NFL seasons but was hampered by injuries.
Okung suffered a high ankle sprain in the first preseason game of his rookie season. When he returned, he injured the other ankle. Those two injuries limited him to 10 games in the 2010 season. In his second season, he suffered a torn pectoral muscle that forced him to miss the final four games.
Finally healthy last season, Okung started 15 games. With Okung anchoring one of the league's most dominant offensive lines, the Seahawks can control the trenches.
Seattle (11-5) was a wild-card team last season but finished strong. Winning seven of their last eight regular-season games, highlighted by a 42-13 romp over the NFC champion 49ers, the Seahawks have Super Bowl expectations heading into training camp.
“At the end of the day football is going to be football,” Okung said. “Regardless of us being favorites or whatever other people have to say, we have to take it one day at a time. Whatever happens afterward, happens.”