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He is disappointed, but not despondent; frustrated, but not frantic.
That was the mood of the man across the table as president of football operations/general manager Tim Ruskell sat down with Seahawks.com to discuss the state of the team at midseason point of the season.
Like everyone else in Seahawks Nation, Ruskell is not happy with the team’s 3-5 record heading into Sunday’s couldn’t-be-any-bigger game against the NFC West-leading Cardinals in Arizona. But he also realizes that the unfulfilled expectations in the first half of a season where there is a new head coach, new coordinators and systems on both sides of the ball, 10 new starters and 20 new players on the current 53-man roster and an avalanche of injuries cannot prompt panic decisions.
“You have to step back from the whole thing and say, ‘OK, what’s the big picture here?’ ” Ruskell said. “It’s not the loss here or the win here. It’s, do they have a plan? Are they following it? Is there something they’re trying to get to?
“I think that’s what we have, and everybody is on the same page. That’s what you have to have. I know the frustration of the fans, but you have to exercise some patience here. It’s going to happen.”
With the said, here’s what Ruskell had to say about other issues:
Q: At midseason, what’s your take on the team?
A: “We’re disappointed in our record, but we’re not discouraged with our progress. We all want to be 8-0. But in retrospect, when you look at all the changes that we’ve made in the last 10 months, to think that you were just going to – boom, right off the bat – dominate the National Football League probably wasn’t realistic.
“Look at the teams that made those kinds of changes – I’m talking about coaching staffs and coordinators and philosophies. There are eight of them. Denver is 6-2. The Jets are 4-4. We’re 3-5. Everybody else is 1-7. That shows the difficulty inherent with when you make that kind of change. Even though you try to make it smooth and seamless, it doesn’t always work that way. We’re finding out some things. Some players have adapted to the new schemes and philosophy and some are taking their time. That’s what you have to work through. That’s what we are working through presently. And we’re making progress. It comes in bits and parts. It doesn’t just come all at once. And I think that explains our inconsistency and a little bit of the rollercoaster that this team is on.”
Q: With all the injuries (12 starters have missed a combined 41 games, and counting), all the other changes the team has made have almost been lost. How have those changes impacted the season to this point and your plan overall?
A: “There’s history here with the Seahawks. Since Paul (Allen) bought the team, there’s been a period of success. Certainly from the 2005 to the 2007 season, I think that’s the winningest period in Seahawks history. From ‘85-2004, this team didn’t win a playoff game. Since then, we’ve been to seven and won four of them.
“But you kind of forget about that. When you have one bad year, it’s kind of like forget about all of that. We all want to win it all. That’s why we’re here. We’ve got that job to do. We’re never going to lose sight of that. But I think people have to know that we have a plan. It’s a good plan. And we are following it. Obviously, you make adjustments along the way as people and player fit or don’t fit. If it’s not working, you have to admit it and move on. If it is working, you try to exploit it and have it do more for you. Jim (Mora, the coach) and I are in lockstep on the plan, as is everybody in this building. And we feel good about it. We won’t be distracted from it. You can’t just react to, ‘Well, we didn’t win that game, let’s change everything; let’s get this guy.’ You can’t do that. Then that change becomes change for the sake of change, and that’s what you are. What’s the saying? ‘The more you change, the more you stay the same.’ You have to stick with the plan through the thick and the thin, and we’re doing that.
“I know you talk to the players, and there’s no doom and gloom in here. Our attitude is the same as it was Day One. It’s a good attitude and guys are working their tails off – I’m talking coaches, administrators, players. They feel good about the people they’re working with. And we go into every week thinking we can win, and that’s a good thing. That’s the culture that we wanted, and it’s here.”
A: “As far as the team, I’m very happy with how the draft went. All those guys are contributing and they are who we thought they were – to quote a phrase. They will help us going into the future. They’re the right kind of kids. They’re hardworking guys. And they fit what Jim wants to be as a team, philosophically, in terms of our goals.
“As far as the free agents, we brought in a few guys. What was our plan? We wanted to get bigger, we wanted to get more physical, we wanted to have greater mental toughness. I think all those guys we brought in kind of exude that. And that will catch on. And that needs to be the mindset of the whole team. But again, it doesn’t just happen instantly, as much as we would like it to. But it’s taking hold, I guess is the best way to put it.
“Our defense has started to show signs that this could end up being a really good defense. And a lot of those pieces are starting to take shape. Even with the injuries there, we’ve been able to have some good games and some good moments. Again, not consistently. More of a rollercoaster.
“The offense is a little bit further behind. Probably more changes involved there and injuries at more important positions, for lack of a better way to put it. So that’s a slower process, and offense always is a slower process, especially when you bring in a new scheme with new coaches. There’s more to learn. There’s more to do. But they’ve had their moments, as well. The running game has had its moments. Obviously the passing game has had its moments. But it has not been a situation where week to week you know what you’re getting.
“And that’s what we’re striving to get to, and we hope this is the week that it happens. And if it isn’t, then we work to make it happen next week. We’re trying to get to a consistent ‘What are we?’ And really, when you get a new team this team really has to learn how to win. There’s no carryover effect from the old Seahawks. There’s something to that. It’s kind of hard to put your finger on in terms of defining, but you do have to as a new group learn how to win. And what that takes. For Jim, that’s everyday for him – every meeting. Talking about that and getting those guys to be on the same page and understand what you have to sacrifice to do that, in the game and in your weekly preparation. That will never end.
“Again, we have our moments – our starts and our stops. But we’ve got to be consistent.”
Q: Isn’t a perfect example of that the way the season started? How do you explain having two shutouts wrapped around a three-game losing streak?
A: “What you have to say is we really haven’t established our identity yet. When we roll out on the field, what are we? The good teams, you know what they are. You know what they’re going to be bringing every week, and they’re probably bringing that every week. Now you’ve got to beat it, and that’s tough because they’re going to do it very well. Like the Colts, they do that same thing. It’s not hard to figure it out. Now, you’ve got to go beat that. So they have an identity.
“So that’s what we have to establish. It just takes time. There is patience required here. As fans, that’s the hardest thing. For us, it’s to not lose your focus on what you’re trying to do. There’s no quick fix for that.”
Q: You also had a large roster turnover in 2005, your first year with the team. But that team went to the Super Bowl. What was the key ingredient to that team’s success?
A: “You’re right, I think we brought in almost two dozen new players that year – Joe Jurevicius, Bryce Fisher, Chuck Darby, Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill, Leonard Weaver, Jamie Sharper, Kelly Herndon, Andre Dyson. But the nucleus was there on offense. We needed to get our defense to play to at least an average level. The offense was good enough that, it was kind of like Indianapolis – if the defense can just be good, or better, we’ve got something.
“That’s what happened. And then we got rid of some malcontents in the locker room, for lack of a better term, and the attitude just became, ‘Hey, this is a fun place to go to work.’ There was just a different attitude, and everybody was fighting for their job because there was a lot of new competition. So I think everybody raised their level of play, and we had that magical year.
“And in ’07, people forget that we were within an eyelash of going to the (NFC) championship game again. We’re driving down the field (against the Bears in Chicago). We kick a field goal, we win the game. So we would have been in New Orleans for the championship game to go to the Super Bowl. Then, the next year, we’re up 14-0 in Green Bay. Then the snow came, and so did our chances of winning.”
Q: What have you liked about the season to this point?
A: “The effort has been tremendous. The work ethic and effort of the players, and their focus on doing what Jim wants them to do and the coaches want them to do. The coaching staff, very pleased with how well they work together. I think they’re bright. They’re motivators. They’re teachers. So I’m very happy with how that group has come together.
“Then there have been our moments of play. The way (first-round draft choice Aaron) Curry has played a times. (David) Hawthorne, and what he’s brought to the linebacking corps stepping in for Lofa (Tatupu). Julius (Jones, running back) has had his moments. There have been some neat moments. Housh (wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh) and what he’s done. Matt (Hasselbeck, quarterback) and what he’s done when he’s been healthy. People said, ‘He’s done. He’s through.’ Obviously not.
“There have been individual moments that I’ve liked and what I was hoping for. But we haven’t had that moment of everything coming together for a few games in a row. I guess that would be the disappointing part.”
A: “You’re right, it isn’t the same team. And when we talked about it with Jim and the coaching staff, we talked about a two-year plan. When you’re switching coaches and schemes, you can’t do it all at once. You only have so many draft picks. You only have so much money to spend in free agency. Yet we feel like we did a heckuva job last year filling some holes to fit things to what the coaches wanted in terms of their schemes.
“So we’re going to need another year like that. We’re going to need another powerful offseason. Which we are prepared to do. We have the two (first-round draft choices). We’ll have a two. So that’s three high picks in a draft that we think looks pretty darn good. Then we’ll do what we need to do in free agency. But looking at it when we started, we said, ‘You know what? Probably two years to adapt this to Jim and his group.’ Then it was a matter of, ‘OK, how quickly is it all going to come together?’ We hoped it was going to be right away, with the infusion of the talent and energy we did this year. But that just hasn’t happened to the level we wanted it to happen. It may happen now. We may start getting all these guys going together, and that’s what we’re all hoping for. And they’re certainly working hard enough for that to happen.”
Q: There was a lot of talk during the spring and summer about getting back into the division race and getting back to the playoffs. Were the expectations too high?
A: “Probably so. But, gosh, I’m never going to want to go into a season saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t going to be a real good year; we’re rebuilding.” Because it only takes a certain number of players to have a hot year, or you get a string (of victories) going. So you never go into a season pessimistic, especially when you do a lot in the offseason. Instead, you say, ‘Hey, it’s happened before. This could all come together right now.’ So we’re never going to allow that not to happen. Then I think you’re doing a disservice. But in retrospect, maybe so. Maybe we had our expectations too high.
“But there’s a lot of season left to play, and these guys aren’t even considering that it can’t happen. They’re working to get better. They know they’re getting better. And there’s a lot of season left to go. So let’s just see what happens.
“And we’re not done in terms of our player evaluations. We’re going to let the whole season play out. If you make changes like we did you’ve got to give them time to pan out. Too often, people give up on players too quickly, especially new players. And you make mistakes that way. So we’re going to give it the whole season, then we’re going to take a look, ‘OK, what worked? What didn’t work? What, if any, changes do we need to make?’ ”
Q: With Hawthorne’s development into a playmaker, are there any thoughts of switching to a 3-4 defense next season when Tatupu returns?
A: “Sure, and that’s the great thing about Jim and this staff. It’s not just, ‘This is my way. You plug guys in, if they can’t play then it’s the next guy.’ You can’t do that in the modern NFL. There’s too much change and there are too many new trends going on. Who would have even thought about the Wildcat three years ago?
“It’s too early to say whether it could be a fulltime change. That’s something when you have the time you assess that. You look back on everything and say, ‘OK, with these defensive linemen, would it be too big a hit in terms of guys who wouldn’t fit the 3-4?’ ”
Q: This goes beyond this season, but do you have the players needed to play the new schemes?
A: “We made a lot of changes on the defensive line to increase our pressure and though we’ve taken steps and there have been some good things and some highlights, it hasn’t been to the level that we thought we would have attained. (Defensive line coach) Dan Quinn is a fantastic coach and everybody is working real hard at that in terms of our pressure packages and how are we going to get that done and how to incorporate the linebackers. But so far, again, not consistent and not to the level that we hoped for.
“So if that doesn’t get better – and I think it will – then we’re going to have to look at that again and say, ‘OK, do we have people in the right spots? Are these the right guys? Do we have to address that again, in terms of our personnel moves in the offseason? That’s one thing we have to look at.
“In the running game, I think that’s all tied to the offensive line. You’ve got to have continuity there. These guys are still learning the zone-blocking scheme. The running game has had its moments, but it has also had its not-so-great moments. So that’s the other area where I’d say, ‘We’ve had our moments, but we haven’t gotten to the level of consistency that we thought, OK, I think we’ve gotten this licked with the group we have – the line, the running backs.’ You can’t say that right now. So again, let it play out, let’s see what we’re doing, we’ve made some changes there in terms of personnel already, so let’s see how that plays out. If it doesn’t get to a level of consistency, or the level that we think is adequate for us to win, then we’ll have to look at that.”
Q: Is this not the time to talk about offseason priorities because, as you’ve said, you want to see how things play out the rest of the season?
A: “Yeah. We brought a lot of players in here and let’s see if they adapt and grow and get to the point we want them to get to. So I think you can make a mistake if you make the proclamation right now that, ‘We’re definitely going to do this.’ You’ve got to give these guys a chance to develop with all the things that we’ve done.
“But will that be something that we do? Absolutely. You have to continually do that. I think the biggest mistake teams make in this league is they don’t truthfully, honestly – brutally honestly – evaluate themselves. They may hold on to a guy too long that just is never going to come around, or they didn’t give a guy a chance who probably should have had one. So you’ve got to work as hard as you possibly can to not have that happen. You’ve got to let it play out.”
Q: How much have the injuries this season stunted the growth of the team, and the players in the new systems?
A: “Hard to say. Where would we be if we’d had all our guys? I think we’d have a chance to be 5-3 right now. I think it was more of an issue last year, because those injuries were for the year. We wiped out our receivers. We wiped out our offensive line. We kind of knocked out our quarterback. And we couldn’t overcome that. You hated to see that.
“This year, we’re starting to get healthy again. Although losing Walter (Jones) and Lofa, those are huge. But the thing about this team, they do not dwell on that. It’s not an excuse-making team. It’s not an excuse-making coaching staff. And the players have bought into that – ‘Hey, you’re coached just as much as that guy.’ David Hawthorne is a perfect example of that. He could have gone, ‘Geez, that Lofa.’ Shoot no. He just worked harder and when he got his chance he went for it.
“So we just don’t dwell on that. I know everybody wants us to go there, but we’re just not going to go there.”