INDIANAPOLIS – As Pete Carroll sat in the corner of the lobby at the downtown Marriott, he just looked more relaxed in his role as coach of the Seahawks than a year ago.
More importantly, he is.
Carroll had taken part in the NFL scouting combine before, but last year he was coming off a decade-long absence from the pro game and preparing to undertake what would become a major reconstruction of the Seahawks’ roster.
“Much more so. Much more so, because of the familiarity of the people,” Carroll said Saturday when asked about his improved comfort zone. “That’s really what it is.”
Carroll wasn’t talking about the offensive linemen and tight ends, after just sitting through their on-field workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium. He was referring to the people who sat through those workouts with him – general manager John Schneider, vice president of football operations Will Lewis and director of college scouting Scott Fitterer, among others.
“The time we’ve spent, we’ve just come to common ground and common language,” Carroll said. “So we’re just better.”
It started with the partnership between Carroll and Schneider, who also was hired last January – eight days after Carroll.
“It was the most important thing that happened coming into the program, was John and mine’s relationship,” Carroll said. “We worked hard at that. Just hung out. Stayed together and just kind of lived together and just kept talking and working. And so our language became more connected and more common.
“It took us two, three months to really get things worked out. But we’re still growing, because we’re still coming across new things and new opportunities and new discussions and evaluations. It’s a continued, on-going growth, but we’re in really good shape right now. We’re communicating great. We’re really seeing things eye-to-eye.”
After a first season together that produced an improbable NFC West title, neither Carroll nor Schneider is anticipating the kind of roster makeover that included 284 transactions last year. But Carroll is always looking to add more talent and generate more competition, even if the Seahawks are drafting 25th in the first round this year after holding the sixth and 14th picks overall last year – which they used to select left tackle
“I don’t think there’s any question, there are going to be some choices at that spot,” Carroll said. “There are enough guys at enough positions that I can’t imagine that positions will get wiped out. So we’re going to have some good shots there.”
Even if that first shot will come substantially later.
“It’s not nearly as easy to call as it was last time around when we had a really good idea what was going on,” said Carroll, who locked in on Okung and Thomas after he and Schneider made what turned out to be a memorable pre-draft trip through Oklahoma and Texas that produced quality players at need positions.
At 25, Carroll and Schneider should be able to add to the pile on an offensive line that was ravaged by injuries last year. Or, acquire another defensive lineman to help the depth on a unit that saw its performance slip as injuries also claimed starters. Or, well, just name the position and the Seahawks should be able to improve it even if best player available doesn’t mesh with need as it did last year.
Even with less roster turnover on the horizon, things are far from status quo because the offensive coaching staff has undergone major changes. Darrell Bevell is the new coordinator, replacing Jeremy Bates. Tom Cable is the new line coach, replacing Art Valero, who had replaced Alex Gibbs the week of the opener last year. Carl Smith is the new quarterbacks coach, replacing Jedd Fisch.
But Carroll is confident that it is change for the better. It has been a crash course to this point, as Bevell, Cable and the just-arrived Smith have had to “get on the same philosophical page,” as Carroll put it. Then, they had to evaluate the performance of the offense last season, with an eye to what can improve the unit this season.
“I’m really happy with the way that worked out,” he said. “Everybody is really clear and we’re functioning really cleanly right now. They’re off and flying.”
Carroll admits they face “a huge job,” after the offense ranked 28th in the league last season.
The goal is obvious, and even made Carroll break into a smile as he offered, “Hopefully it will look better. We’re counting on it.”
The learning curve for the players, as well as the new coaches, will be lessened because Bevell and Cable come from the same foundation.
“Even in terminology,” Carroll said. “There’s always some things you have to tweak. But the great majority of it, these guys absolutely know. They cross right over. Immediately, each guy can talk his offense and they know what the other is talking about.
“And it allows us to not have to change much. There’s a real continuity of thought in mind there to help our players move ahead. To wholesale shift and change everything, particularly in this year, it could be even harder.”
And a lot less comfortable.