For Part 1, NFC West Champion Seahawks fly into offseason raising the ceiling, Part 1 of 3: Program "buy in," year two, scroll down or click the link to the right.
Note: "Part 2" is a three part article. If you only have a couple minutes, read the first part and come back to finish. Read all three separately. No pressure, at all. I just don't want you to feel slighted because football season is over; there is plenty to talk about. Please keep following this off season.
Defense and Special Teams
A more cohesive front seven: Todd Wash replaces Dan Quinn as the Defensive Line coach. Wash comes from the Buccaneers, where he spent the past three seasons in the same position. His hiring did not attract nearly the attention the offensive changes received; he seemed to be somewhat of a mystery, so I did some research.
- Wash was a two time all conference Linebacker at then Division II North Dakota State from 1988-1991; as a player, he was winner of two national championships and preseason All-American and Captain his senior season.
- He failed to make the NFL and went back to school earning a bachelor's in Physical Education and masters in Athletic Administration.
- He has experience as Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator at D II and DI levels respectively, as well as Defensive Line coach at all levels.
- He reportedly turned down an extension in Tampa Bay to pursue the same position in Seattle.
Wash played with Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley on the 1988 NDSU championship team and was coached by Bradley in 1990-1991. Wash replaced Bradley at Fort Lewis College in 1996 and again at various coaching positions at NDSU in the early 2000s. They coached together for two years in Tampa. They have a working, football relationship dating nearly a quarter century.
Wash has high expectations to fulfill in succeeding Quinn. However, this hire truly signifies the importance of both fit and coaching lineage to this organization. The experience Bradley and Wash have working together is a tremendous advantage when installing and coaching the defensive scheme, especially in creating a pass rush; the familiarity these coaches have with each other will allow the players to gain a different perspectives towards running the same defense.
Linebacker coach Ken Norton Jr. brings championship experience as both player and coach, and a full understanding of Carroll's scheme from his tenure at USC; he developed Clay Matthews, Lofa Tatupu, Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga among others. The combination of Norton's expertise and the familiarity of Wash and Bradley should help create continuity for the defensive front seven and the coaches, as the unit needs to improve "playing inside the discipline of the defense," a concept the Seahawks consistently struggled with in 2010.
A Secondary in transition: Secondary coach Jerry Gray left for the University of Texas; based on the performance of the unit last season, it is hard to call his services a major loss: Safety's caused major breakdowns that led to big plays in crucial games; Corners consistently struggled to play press coverage, often trailing the receiver.
New Secondary coach Kris Richard has a unique history with Pete Carroll; as a senior in 2001, Carroll credits Richards' Pick 6 against Arizona as "the single play that turned the USC program around," a play that jettisoned the program to a 85-10 stretch over the next seven- plus seasons.
Interestingly enough, Richard provided some insight as to what happened in Carroll's first year at USC; "It took a while for us to figure it out during Coach Carroll's first year, but when that light bulb turned on, there was no turning back."
That year, Richard told Carroll he wanted to coach when he was done playing NFL football. Carroll told Richard to "look him up" when he was done playing. Six years later in 2008, Richard was appointed as Graduate Assistant at USC.
Rocky Seto, promoted from Quality Control, is now the assistant Defensive backs/Safety coach; he has spent over a decade under Carroll, in various defensive capacities on USC's staff and in Seattle. Richard and Seto have a working relationship in the Carroll program and had success together as both player and coach.
Richard brings experience as a player, but the duo is inexperienced on the NFL coaching level. I am curious as to whether or not the organization plans to bring in another mind to help in the Secondary or as Quality Control advisor. Ultimately, the responsibility falls on Carroll to provide the resources to sure up the backend. This is an aspect of this team that is under great scrutiny going into 2011, as the pass defense looked overmatched the majority of the 2010 season.
A leading unit: The Seahawks Special Teams unit was the identifiable bright spot of the 2010 team.
- Leon Washington was a Second Team All Pro return man, largely due to a disciplined, high energy unit that blocked well on returns.
- The Seahawks were strong on the line of scrimmage in the kicking game, with multiple blocked kicks and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown against Kansas City.
- Multiple players contributed to good coverage on punts and kickoffs, finishing plays strong with sound tackling.
- Kicker Olindo Mare remained among the most consistent in the league.
- The unit focused on energy and consistency, displaying an attitude the team hoped to work towards as a whole.
Reflection for 2011
The following is a list of seven specific sequences or themes that had a negative impact on the 2010 season and must be evaluated going into 2011.
- Early season coaching blunders: Amidst the teams 4-2 start, Coach Carroll made questionable decisions that brought negative attention in weeks 3-6. In week 3 against the Chargers at the end of first half, up 10-0, Hasselbeck spiked the ball on 2nd and 1 at the goal line, instead of a quick snap, quick pass. After a failed shotgun, QB draw on 3rd with no timeouts remaining, the clock ran out as the Field Goal attempt was snapped. What should have been a sure seven points, or even disappointing three, turned into zero. In week 4, the Seahawks failed a fake field goal attempt. In week 6, leading 23-13 with less than three minutes to play, the Seahawks punted to Devin Hester; the resulting 89 yard return touchdown magnified the already poor decision. Carroll proved early in his first season he wasn't fully prepared to finish an NFL game; punting to Hester, especially given the game situation in a road game, is unacceptable. With a full season under his belt, Carroll will need to be free of early season rust in 2011.
- Too many tune ups: Mike Williams developed a few nasty habits early in the season: getting stopped at the one yard line on numerous occasions and dropping balls early in games, tied for the NFL lead in drops through the season's first eight games. He spent much of the season on the injury report; partly due to the fact his body hasn't endured a football season in three years. Of his 65 catches, 32 came in weeks 6, 7 and 10. He averaged a paltry 3.5 catches over the team's final four games; however, he did catch 4 TDs in that span. His season was flashy, yet inconsistent. The two, or three, drops against Chicago leave a sour taste to the season. The million dollars plus bonus for workout attendance in this off season should keep Williams motivated. The Seahawks cannot get better on offense without an improved, more durable Williams.
- 1 for 7 inside the opponents 14 yard line: In the week 7 victory versus Arizona, the Seahawks offense showed a true ineptitude scoring in the red zone, also a sign that the team had yet to learn how to finish; again, the fact the Seahawks offense was not truly dependable was masked, somewhat, by a 4-2 record and division lead. The Seahawks spoke of owning the division after this victory; a 2-7 losing streak and a gut wrenching, week 17 victory hosting St. Louis was needed to actually own the division when the season ended. The ability to finish was in question for this team the entire season. The Seahawks had a strict focus on finishing strong the season's final six games, producing a disappointing a 1-4 record going into week 17; the failure to get the ball in the end zone in the week 7 victory was just a sign of things to come.
- Third down disaster: The Seahawks defense was in the bottom third of the league converting on third down; they were rarely able to execute and was a defensive Achilles heel. Two moments in the middle of the season standout: First, the roughing the passer penalty against Raheem Brock, on a successful 3rd and long stop, at New Orleans proved to be a costly mistake for the teams mindset; Drew Brees drove down the field for the touchdown, keeping control of the game into halftime. A week later, Chiefs back Jamaal Charles scored on a 3rd and goal, three yard touchdown run to start the 4th quarter, the quarter the Seahawks pride themselves upon. Four Seahawks had a chance to tackle Charles, but he slipped away; a play exemplary of the inconsistent defensive production and tendency to break, not bend.
- Lofa Tatupu Pick 6, week 13: Why is a play that vaulted the Seahawks to a season continuing comeback victory on a list of questionable moments? Because it masked some major deficiencies of the 2010 Seahawks team. Tatupu had played poorly and looked overmatched in recent weeks, especially in pass coverage at New Orleans. Football IQ put Tatupu in position to make the play, not health and athleticism. Furthermore, the win built a "mystical" feeling going forward, confusion as to how the comeback occurred and how to maintain the momentum going forward; three blowout losses followed. I hope the Seahawks take a more critical look at possible in season changes in 2011. I believe the Seahawks missed some personnel changes last season: David Hawthorne at Middle Linebacker, moving Lofa to a situational defender considering his poor health; Kelly Jennings looked overmatched the entire season and could have been replaced at multiple points. The Seahawks must remain innovative and ahead of the curve in evaluating their roster during the 2011 season.
- 4th and short: The Seahawks were in the bottom five in 4th down conversion percentage, not a surprise to those who are aware of the teams' season long, scrutinized struggle in the situation. The change in offensive philosophy will hopefully provide a fresh approach, different from the "fourth and 1 fade" that Jeremy Bates made famous. The Falcons were 2/2 on 4th down during their opening drive in Seattle, an example of the importance of 4th down success for a ball control, power offense. To take a step in the direction of becoming a championship team, the Seahawks need to focus on winning the 4th and short battle in 2011.
- Jordan Babineaux dropped interception, Divisional Playoffs: This moment is simple. As a fan, I remember it to be my most disappointing of the season; clearly, the Seahawks run in the 2010 Playoffs was over after this play. One of the clutch players in recent Seahawks memory had three interceptions slip from his grasp in the 2010 playoffs, none bigger than the drop while protecting the goal line at Chicago. The play highlights the fact that another wave of players from the Old Regime will remain unsigned or be released by the Seahawks. Matt Hasselbeck, Jordan Babineaux, Craig Terrill, Chris Spencer, Sean Locklear, Brandon Mebane lead the list of free agent veterans truly familiar with the Holmgren regime; Leon Washington, Brandon Stokley, Roy Lewis, Will Herring, Raheem Brock, Michael Robinson lead the list of New Regime contributors, 29 players total by my count, that are free to sign elsewhere in 2011. The Seahawks have plenty of space for progress.
The Schneider Way
The Packers Super Bowl victory provides unexpected insight into the future of the Seahawks.
Current Seahawks GM John Schneider spent 2002-2008 as the Packers top personnel assistant and was promoted to Director of Football Operations for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Realize Schneider played a meaningful role in assembling that team; creating a young core of players that play with passion; finding players that fit, as the organization re-worked the defense into an aggressive, 3-4 scheme and had to facilitate the transition from Favre to Aaron Rodgers and a spread offense. Note the hire of veteran coach Dom Capers as Defensive Coordinator was vital for that organization. A complex puzzle, scheme and personnel wise, was put together quickly.
Rodgers, the only Quarterback Schneider and his superiors have taken in the 1st round during his 17 years as an NFL personnel evaluator and executive, described this Packers team as a group of "high character guys who stepped up;" Receiver James Jones, "we stayed together as a family and kept believing."
The mantra sounds familiar; based on recent history, there are few personnel executives I'd rather have building an NFL team in 2011 than John Schneider.
A diligent plan
The Seahawks head into an offseason of uncertainty, due to the lack of Collective Bargaining Agreement, with a confident plan. Carroll, "John has a great plan laid out, I'm very impressed:" An in-depth, nationwide scouting operation of NCAA players available in the draft, continual signing of young, free agent talent to future contracts and re-signing of 2010 Seahawks is the focus of the plan. No trades or signing of players that finished the season under contract with other organizations is allowed until the new CBA is in place. If a new CBA is agreed upon, Schneider will surely take his "no stone unturned" approach to sifting the Free Agent pool. He is willing to be more aggressive than his recent mentor Thompson in Free Agent acquisitions.
Schneider won a Super Bowl in his first season as personnel evaluator with the Packers and Mike Holmgren in 1996; his list of mentors further includes Super Bowl winning GMs Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson and Coaches Jon Gruden, Andy Reid and Marty Schottenheimer. Schneider's football education has been taught by an elite group.
The Seahawks understand they can't depend on Free Agency and must focus on building; "we need to be diligent and come together from within." Developing players that are readily available to the program will be the main approach this team takes.
A clear direction
I want to share two quotes I heard during Super Bowl pregame coverage on ESPN:
- Steve Young speaking on team mentality: "teams need to develop something that can be held on to, year by year, where players can show up and continue to master the program."
- Sean Peyton speaking on what it takes to be a championship organization: "an organization must have a sound relationship between Head Coach and GM in terms of personnel, character and defined directions the team wants to go. When you have that, you have a dangerous program. You must have patience, ignore the white noise and stick to the plan."
I remember reading a description of the mood of last year's draft room, particularly the relationship of Carroll and Schneider, being described as "one was on the other's shoulders, running around the room." The level of enthusiasm and diligence was uncanny.
Carroll simply stated in the 2010 post season presser" we're going to work as hard as we can and not settle until it's as good as we want it;" An NFL Championship.
They worked with what they had going into year one, successfully achieving the preseason goal of winning the division; after tasting the possibility of a hosting a conference Championship game, year two brings new expectations, new goals.
The Seahawks have a plan put in place to make noise this off season, maybe even break the sound barrier; part of the plot to raise the program to an altitude where an NFL championship is on the horizon.
Part 3, focusing on the composition of the 2011 roster and preliminary draft coverage, coming soon.