When the Seahawks open training camp in about two weeks, there’s going to be a whole lot of teaching going on. And not just by the coaches.
Coach Pete Carroll and his staff began the process in minicamps, but it starts in earnest―and in pads―on July 30.
Fortunately, Carroll & Co. seem to have a very nice little plan for getting everyone up to speed on their offensive and defensive systems.
It helps the holdovers from Jim Mora’s roster, which includes 14 returning starters, that the schemes are similar to what the Seahawks ran last season. The offense is still a West Coast system using zone blocking, and the defense is a variation of the Tampa 2 and is coordinated by the same guy, Gus Bradley.
It helps even more that the Hawks have veterans who know the schemes and can teach them to those who don’t. That is no accident. It is the way the Seahawks have set it up.
On defense, Carroll has plenty of guys who are familiar with his scheme: former USC players Lofa Tatupu, Lawrence Jackson and Kevin Ellison, plus veteran safety Lawyer Milloy, who played for Carroll in New England over a decade ago.
Carroll is counting on Tatupu to continue to tutor second-year linebacker Aaron Curry.
“Last year, Aaron played his best football when Lofa was out there,” Carroll told reporters during minicamps. “And Lofa helped him a lot, frankly. It got harder for Aaron without that experience right next to him. … Lofa affects guys. He helps people understand the game.”
Tatupu missed 11 games last season, and Curry lost his on-field coach and started trying to make up for Tatupu’s absence.
“I started chasing big plays," Curry told reporters last month. "I stopped doing my job. Instead of waiting for the play to come to me for me to make it, I was trying to do other people’s jobs and chasing big plays, getting out of my gap, missing my assignments, chasing a big play because I had been making big plays.”
With Tatupu expected back from the torn pectoral muscle that sidelined him for the final 10 games, Curry should be able to rely on the five-year vet’s experience. And the Seahawks plan to let Curry loose on the quarterback as well, which might appease people who thought the fourth pick in the draft was too high to use on a linebacker who doesn’t chase the quarterback.
On the back end of the defense, Milloy will be helping rookie first-round pick Earl Thomas learn the NFL ropes. At age 36, Milloy is ancient for a safety. But he played his best football for the Seahawks in December, and the new coaches had him working with the starters alongside Thomas in minicamps. Even if that doesn’t last once the season starts, it’s certainly a benefit for Thomas during the learning days of camp.
As the rookie said of the wily vet last month, “He gives me real solid advice. He just told me you're not going to learn everything in the first day, so just take everything and take your coaching and you’ll be just fine.”
Thomas said some of the elements of the Seattle defense mirror what he did at Texas, “so it's not all brand new to me. I'm a quick learner. I'm going to get in there and try to compete and see what happens.”
His first-round counterpart on offense, left tackle Russell Okung, will be doing exactly the same thing as he learns line guru Alex Gibbs’ zone-blocking scheme.
Gibbs had the Seahawks bring in one of his former pupils, left guard Ben Hamilton, to help Okung make the transition to zone-blocking left tackle.
As Gibbs told reporters on draft day, “You can't throw someone out there without someone to guide them. We need a player who had done that and knew this system and could help him make this transfer. That’s what Ben is for. Ben will line up inside of him and guide him daily through this whole process. He’s Coach 1 and I’m Coach 2, and that’s why he’s here.”
Although Jeremy Bates’ version of the West Coast offense is a little different than what the Seahawks ran under Mike Holmgren and tried very unsuccessfully to run under Greg Knapp, veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has expectedly picked it up quickly. It also has become obvious that Charlie Whitehurst, the ballyhooed but inexperienced backup brought in to challenge Hasselbeck, will instead learn from Seattle’s franchise passer in 2010.
And, at receiver, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, 32, surely will be expected to help youngsters Golden Tate and Deon Butler make strides.
If the Seahawks are going to contend for the division title for the first time since 2007, they are going to need heavy contributions from their talented young players. Curry, Thomas, Okung, Tate and Butler all have a lot to learn, but using on-field coaches, the Seahawks have created an environment that should shorten the learning curve.