NEWARK, N.J. — Spectacular. That's the word Tom Cable used to describe Russell Okung.
NFL coaches don't talk much like that. Don't throw around glowing words like candy at a parade. Effective, maybe. Quality. Excellent, even.
I went through 56,000 words of Super Bowl transcripts. I found no other spectaculars. No amazings or fantastics. No magnificents or marvelouses. No sensationals or splendids.
I found an unbelievable; Russell Wilson talking about Peyton Manning.
But here was the Seahawk offensive line coach talking about his left tackle. And talking big.
“A spectacular player, in my opinion,” Cable said. “When Russ has been healthy, he's been exceptional.”
Only trouble is, Okung hasn't always been healthy, since being taken sixth overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, out of OSU.
A high ankle sprain cost him six games his rookie year. A torn pectoral muscle benched him four games in 2011. A torn ligament in his big toe this season limited Okung to eight games.
But in 2012, Okung missed only one game and made the Pro Bowl. And how he's on a bigger stage.
Of the stars from the Oklahoma-dominated 2010 draft — OU's Sam Bradford (No. 1 overall), Gerald McCoy (No. 3), Trent Williams (No. 4) and Jermaine Gresham (No. 21); OSU's Okung and Dez Bryant (No. 24) — Okung is the first to reach the Super Bowl, on Sunday against the Broncos.
“It's a blessing to be picked where I was and to have people believe in me the way they did,” Okung said. “I just want to do the best with my opportunity. It's a privilege, and I wake up every morning and I thank God for it.”
Okung is like a lot of us. He didn't see this coming until his junior year in Stillwater. The Cowboy coaches seemed to deliver out of the blue the news that they had a big-time player on their hands. It sort of hit Okung that way, too.
“It was my junior year when people were telling me I have a chance to go to the NFL,” Okung said. “I was just doing it (football) because I loved it.”
He had no idea where he would be drafted. “I just wanted to play football, and wherever the chips fell, I was fine.”
The chips fell in Seattle, where Okung has an offensive lineman's dream. A physical running game — tailback Marshawn Lynch is a total beast — and a mobile quarterback (Wilson) who can evade a pass rush.
“I believe we play football the way it's supposed to be played,” Okung said. “Running the football and playing smash-mouth.”
Offensive line has become a Seahawk strength. Center Max Unger is an all-pro, and Okung is a budding star.
“You're talking about an athlete that's very powerful,” Cable said. “He can win a one-on-one battle.”
That's what's demanded of a left tackle, one of pro football's elite positions. A player who can win mano-mano whether run blocking or pass protecting.
“He had a terrific, terrific year last year,” Cable said. “Healthy the entire time. I think that's who he is. When he's healthy he's one of the very best in the game.”
So the recipe seems simple. Stay healthy, and Okung is a franchise cornerstone. The Seahawks have a loaded roster that's not top-heavy in payroll; they could be good for years to come. Stay healthy, and Okung could be a longtime star.
But can he stay healthy?
“Once you get past the collegiate level, it's about being a professional,” Okung said. “You have to learn how to deal with injury better and have the mental capacity, as well as the fortitude, to stay in the game, regardless of the circumstance or situation.”
But a torn pectoral muscle can't be repaired by mental toughness. You can't will a big toe to be fine.
“It was tough, because you want to be out there with your peers,” Okung said. “You want to play in the football game, but the truth is, sometimes your body just won't allow you to do it. You have to have plenty of resolve and get as healthy as you can preparing for a comeback.”
Okung has proven his resolve. If he can maintain his health, the results promise to be spectacular.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.