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'Hawks hope Okung can play in opener despite high ankle sprain

RENTON, Wash. -- Sixth overall draft pick Russell Okung has a high right ankle sprain, putting the critical left tackle position in flux for the Seattle Seahawks entering the regular season.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll announced after Tuesday's practice that he still hopes Okung, the replacement for retired All-Pro Walter Jones, can play in the Sept. 12 opener against the San Francisco 49ers. But the Seahawks are pushing ahead with backup plans of employing either Mansfield Wrotto, a backup guard, or recuperating Chester Pitts to protect quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's blind side.

Wrotto will start in the team's third preseason game, Saturday at Minnesota.

Okung, a 6-foot-5, 315-pounder from Oklahoma State to whom the Seahawks guaranteed more than $29 million this month, sprained his ankle when linemate Ben Hamilton tripped him on the first play of Saturday night's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Okung finished the three-and-out series, then hobbled into the locker room -- and into weeks of rehabilitation.

"I was kind of hoping it wasn't, but it is," Carroll said of Okung's high ankle sprain, which sometimes involves a recovery time of up to two months. "It's not the worse one we've ever seen. It's kind of a moderate one.

"That's why we're holding out hope that he can come back quickly from it. But those can be, you know, difficult. We'll have to see how it goes with him."

The Seahawks already are without backup tackle Ray Willis, who's out indefinitely after knee surgery last week.

Carroll said Seahawks general manager John Schneider is looking for potential replacements. Reminded that available, game-ready NFL left tackles don't just walk down the street each day, the coach chuckled ruefully and said, "Yeah."

"We're always competing every day to find guys, to help our roster," Carroll said. "John's looking every day to see what's going on, who's available and all that. So we'll continue to look."

Wrotto was at left tackle during Tuesday's practice. Pitts, a former Houston Texan who was added this offseason as a free agent, came off the physically unable to perform list and was doing leg strengthening drills with a trainer on a side field. Pitts underwent microfracture knee surgery 10 months ago.

Carroll said he hopes Pitts can practice at left tackle this week, calling him a candidate to start there in the opener.

Okung sprained the same ankle during Oklahoma State's opener last season against Georgia, but he missed just a few plays. He started in all 13 games for the Big 12 Conference team, although the ankle bothered him late into the year.

"We don't know him in terms of injuries," Carroll said. "I don't think he's ever missed a game before, or even practice. So he doesn't have any experience of having to come back from something. We'll figure that out as we go. His attitude is fantastic as far as the rehab process goes."

Okung, who missed the first eight days of training camp because of a contract impasse, earlier this month signed a six-year deal that has a maximum value of $58 million.

Carroll on Saturday said it would be "a big loss" if Okung can't come back. Said the coach: "We put a lot of time and effort to get this guy right, and he's done everything we've asked of him.

The Seahawks were without fill-in left tackle Sean Locklear for six games last season because of a high ankle sprain. Locklear is now starting on the right side, but he could be headed back to left tackle after Okung's injury.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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