The Seattle Seahawks have been an organization widely perceived to be hurt if the lockout ensues, often among the top five to 10 teams thought to be most negatively affected.
On Tuesday, ESPN Football Outsiders published an article highlighting the five teams that are prepared to weather the lockout. They introduced their five choices with the following:
“The lockout is not hurting all teams equally. Some teams entered the offseason with a long roster wish list or a whole new coaching staff and system to integrate. Others had the equivalent of a bunker full of canned goods when the lockout struck: a balanced roster, established coaches and few needs.
The following teams were the most prepared for an offseason of relative inactivity, or were at least better prepared than their division rivals.”
That is not a typo; Seattle is considered the wild-card team on a list of annual contenders, three of the past four Super Bowl champions and seven of the past 10. Are other teams more deserving?
The NFC South, three 10-win teams in 2010 and 3-1 against Seattle in the regular season, the AFC South with Indianapolis and the AFC West was 3-1 against Seattle in 2010; each division has one or more teams that many could argue is less affected by the lockout.
Which team should have occupied that fifth spot?
The other four on that list need no explanation. But is there merit and sound logic behind FBO’s argument for Seattle?
First, an abbreviated version of FBO’s outlook for the rest of the NFC West in 2011: The 49ers have a rookie head coach and major questions all around, the Cardinals struggling into 2011 and the Rams hoping to hold ground as they install Josh McDaniels’ complex offensive scheme.
Now, FBO analyzing Seattle:
Seattle, by contrast, has a stable coaching staff and a roster full of veterans. If anybody deserves a few extra weeks off to heal his aches and pains, it's Matt Hasselbeck. The Seahawks could easily ride a 6-0 division record into the playoffs next year while their foes try to settle quarterback controversies or figure out new playbook terminology.
How did FBO come to this conclusion? I believe there is traction to parts of their argument. We'll keep their thoughts on Hasselbeck aside.
The Direction Into 2011 and John Schneider’s Recent Comments
Carroll's "buy in" mentality has become prevalent within the Seattle program, the two-game win-or-go-home home stand at the end of the year vindication for losing seven of nine. The team remained on board with the philosophy and saw the fruits of hard work in the Seahawks system.
With that, players within the program were once again reminded that competing through the offseason is the only way to remain. Complacency is not a part of the mentality.
Nevertheless, there are holes to fill before the team can compete consistently on a championship level; 25 unrestricted free agents, Will Herring and Brandon Mebane restricted free agents, leaves a lot of space to fill.
On high note, the Seahawks do have a long list of up-and-coming, soon-to-be veteran players who are in position to become main factors in 2011. I believe this was a factor for FBO in determining Seattle has a stable enough roster.
Players like Justin Forsett, David Hawthorne, John Carlson and Roy Lewis have opportunities to step into clear leadership roles, and Russell Okung and Earl Thomas are leading the first wave of new regime talent ready to help take the reins of the team. Not to mention nearly a dozen or so other starters primed to contribute. Still, the holes remain.
The majority of Seattle’s older talent, both under contract and free agents into 2011, had mixed results in 2010; Brandon Stokley and Raheem Brock were the most surprising producers on the field and Lawyer Milloy crucial off the field. Their leadership could be missed, but they helped the character of the program grow.
Without free agency, however, how will that leadership be replaced according to FBO? They don’t say.
Who is the most important free agent to re-sign?
Interestingly enough, the FBO article was published the day after GM John Schneider revealed a bevy of thoughts about the Seahawks’ draft philosophy to reporters:
No surprise the Seahawks are focused on getting younger, following the “Packers” philosophy of building the program through the draft and less patching via free agency.
Schneider acknowledged he hopes to move back from No. 25 to acquire more picks, as he is not comfortable with Seattle’s lack of a third-round pick. With Seattle welcoming new talent, there is an excitement within the organization to develop as many players as possible.
Seattle wants to add one player on each line and a quarterback; drafting a signal-caller yearly is “part of the philosophy.” They must remain disciplined in drafting a quarterback and not reach. Whitehurst is in consideration to start in 2011, and Schneider values the Week 17 game a bit differently, which is the only game with a game-plan for Whitehurst.
Did the FBO hear Schneider's comments and liken them to the draft philosophies of those other four teams? Possibly. Focusing on youth, speed and smarts or moving around to find hidden value and acquire picks is in line with all four other organizations draft methods.
Does FBO believe Seattle can find four to six starters in the draft, fill holes with undrafted players and a few free agents, and re-sign a good portion of their 2010 personnel who they pursue?
Should Seattle trade down?
I’m inclined to say yes if FBO are willing to place Seattle among the lockout ready elite.
I would personally consider that combination an ideal offseason, but it's no sure thing all three portions of that plan can bring the needed number of players to Seattle.
The Coaching Changes Are Aimed at Progress and Continuity
FBO’s take on Seattle's coaching stability, on the other hand, I think is more founded.
These changes are part of an effort at aligning the football principles of the coaching staff throughout the organization; lineage played a factor to an extent in every offseason coaching change in 2011.
This offseason’s coaching changes have been made with one idea in mind: improving the ability of the coaching staff to communicate and teach the players the Seahawks philosophy.
Assistant Head Coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable puts Seattle back in the philosophical direction Alex Gibbs’ was headed in Seattle before his early retirement. Carroll has been adamant throughout the off season the attitude, knowledge and shared philosophy Cable brings to Seattle is a big key for the program.
How will the offensive coaching changes effect the offense in 2011?
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell spent six years in Green Bay under Mike Sherman—John Schneider working with the organization four of those years, a Mike Holmgren disciple, before working under Brad Childress in Minnesota, an Andy Reid disciple. Bevell brings an extensive knowledge of West Coast Offense principles and the variation within the philosophy.
In early March, I highlighted the awareness Carroll displayed in diligently working to in get the two co-coordinators on the same page, speaking the same language, focused on as short and directed a transition as possible.
The final piece to the puzzle is new quarterback coach Carl Smith, who coached with Carroll in New England among multiple NFL position coach and coordinating tenures; also Matt Leinart's QB coach at USC during his 2004 Heisman season. Smith brings a seasoned NFL mind to a younger staff, an NFL position coach/coordinator the majority of the past quarter century.
New defensive line coach Todd Wash comes to Seattle after spending four seasons with Tampa Bay, where he turned down an extension to come to Seattle.
Wash is reunited with Gus Bradley, their football relationship dating back to defensive teammates on the 1988 D-II Champion North Dakota State football team.
How will the defensive coaching changes effect the defense in 2011?
Bradley coached Wash as a graduate assistant; Wash succeeded Bradley at Fort Lewis College; they worked together both at NDSU and with Tampa Bay in the 2000s.
This was a coaching move designed to bring more continuity to the front seven, enhance the pressure schemes and is a clear example of Carroll maximizing the philosophy in place. With nearly a quarter century of football experience together, their continuity and the expertise of linebacker coach Ken Norton Jr. should help the front seven continue to gain familiarity with one another into 2011.
Assistant secondary coach Kris Richard got promoted into 2011, former quality control coach Rocky Seto—with Carroll for almost a decade at USC in various defensive coaching capacities—moving into Richard’s position.
As noted earlier in the week, Richard played for Carroll at USC until 2002, Carroll then planting the seeds to bring back Richard as a coach, eventually as a graduate assistant in 2008 at USC.
Perhaps the most vulnerable of all the coaching changes, but a move that has Carroll's fingerprints all over it. Carroll is counting on Richard to mature into a solid NFL position coach, a role Carroll has envisioned Richard in since the player left USC in 2002. Though an inexperienced NFL coaching duo, the Richard and Seto have great familiarity with each other and Carroll’s expectations for the secondary.
A Real Discovery by FBO, or Just Another Wild-Card Pick?
I agree the Seahawks offense appears to be in line for a steady incline in the next few seasons, provided they can find a smart, efficient quarterback who is careful with the football.
The defense has more question marks, but FBO may be on the right track in predicting the stability to come with the new coaching staff; obviously, an I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it feeling likely in the mind of many Seahawks' fans. Carroll expects this coaching change to work. He's been pursuing Richard for this role for almost a decade.
The organization has made an active effort in finding coaches to maximize the time and effort put in by the players; the schemes will not change any more than normal offseason variations. These changes are aimed at clarity, not confusion.
The fact that Carroll is focused on bettering his communication with his coaches, to ultimately improve the understanding for the players, displays the stability that is in his vision for the program.
However, beyond this point I believe FBO is putting a lot of stock into the division being below average in 2011.
Furthermore, I believe FBO is putting a lot of merit into the potential of Carroll and Schneider as a duo; Carroll in his third run as an NFL head coach and Schneider fresh off nearly two decades under some of the best personnel managers and evaluators of the past 30 years.
They are potentially a very strong duo, attracting players and maintaining the program. But there is a lot of work to be done to get the program to a Packers-type level.
FBO's analysis is more optimistic than most when analyzing Seattle for 2011, some of that optimism is arguably unfounded. An ideal off-season needed to help that optimism come to fruition.
However, in an offseason generally described as tumultuous and undefined for Seattle, outsider insight placing Seattle headed in the championship direction is a welcome change for anyone associated with the 12th man.