Sandra Bullock's opening monologue in the movie “The Blind Side” is an accurate description of Seattle Seahawks' left tackle Russell Okung.
“You would guess the highest-paid player on any NFL team is the quarterback. And you would be right. But what you probably don't know is more often than not the second highest-paid player is the left tackle.
“As every housewife knows, the first check you write is for the mortgage but the second one is for the insurance. The left tackle's job is to protect the quarterback from what he can't see coming.
“The ideal left tackle is big, but a lot of people are big. He's wide in the butt and massive in the thighs. He has long arms, giant hands and his feet are as quick as a hiccup ... His job is to keep his quarterback from getting hit, protect his blind side.”
Facing some of the NFL's top pass rushers on a weekly basis, Okung allowed one sack last season to earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
During Okung's freshman year, Oklahoma State offensive line coach Joe Wickline sensed Okung had all the qualities to develop into an elite NFL offensive tackle.
“He loved matchups,” Wickline said. “On his best day, you could line him up against the best there is and he would have a different tempo with a different attitude. He would watch extra film. A lot of guys do that but he has a different gear.”
Okung also has an adventurous side. Earlier this month, the Houston product ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
“You hear this big shot go off and the bulls are on their way,” Okung told ESPN.com. “Before you know it, every plan you had, every strategy you had is out the window. You're running for your life. There was a thickness in the air, really electric. It's a surreal feeling.”
Okung told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that Seahawks officials weren't thrilled to hear about their Pro Bowler putting himself at risk.
“They told me they trusted I would make the best and right decisions,” Okung said. “In the States we get caught up thinking that's the whole world when it's really not. There's so much in this world it's amazing. There's so much life to be lived. I figured why not?”
Wickline wasn't shocked to hear Okung was involved in an event where people get gorged and trampled.
“I don't know if it's like he'll go to the Perkins rodeo and start dodging bulls, but he has a great sense of humor,” Wickline said. “He's a happy-go-lucky guy. As long as he stands for the right things and is doing the right stuff those are the main things.”
An Outland Trophy finalist, Okung was named an All-American and was the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year as a senior. He was OSU's most decorated O-lineman since former Pittsburgh Steelers standout center Jon Kolb in the 1960s.
“From the very beginning, coming out of high school, there was no question he was on a mission,” Wickline said. “He had a plan. He wanted to go somewhere that would prepare him for the next level. He wanted to be the best, be an All-American.”
Okung detests talking about himself, which is why he rarely conducts interviews. Teammates and coaches do the talking for him, raving about him as a person and an elite player.
He was the Seahawks' Man of the Year for his charity work. He often speaks at FCA events.
“It starts with his mother, a great lady,” Wickline said. “He's made of the right stuff, a real quality guy. He's very humble. It was never about him, his jersey number or ‘Where do I fit in?'
“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.”