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A shared philosophy, a common goal

Posted Feb 20, 2013

John Schneider and Pete Carroll don’t always view things as the rest of the NFL might, but the GM and coach tandem definitely see eye-to-eye when it comes to drafting players who can play for the Seahawks.

INDIANAPOLIS – John Schneider and Pete Carroll will arrive at the NFL Scouting Combine with a shared philosophy, a common goal and mutual respect between their staffs.

It might not be the same philosophy and goal as the other 31 teams in the league, but that’s part of what has made their mutual-respect relationship as general manager and coach so special – and especially productive when it comes to the NFL Draft – since they joined forces with the Seahawks in 2010.

Over the next six days – Thursday through Tuesday – Schneider, Carroll and their staffs with evaluate and interview those prospects among the 330 draft-eligible players on hand who will best allow them to do what they’ve done best: Build through the draft.

For Schneider’s staff – from director of college scouting Scott Fitterer, to area scouts Jason Barnes, Matt Berry, Todd Brunner, Ed Dodds, Aaron Hineline, Derrick Jensen and Tyler Ramsey, to college scouting director Kirk Parrish – the one-on-several interviews at a downtown hotel and on-field workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium will be the latest look at players they’ve been studying for months, if not years.

For Carroll and his staff – from offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, to new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, to assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable, to the other assistant coaches – the six-day process will give them their first up-close-and-personal looks at the prospects they heard so much about during the extensive combined-staff meetings leading up to the Combine.

But the goals are the same, because the philosophy is the same.

“I take great pride in the chemistry that John and I have about figuring things out and him doing what he does and me doing what I do and then we come together,” Carroll said as the Seahawks were moving from the 2012 regular season to the 2012 postseason. “We have a tremendous relationship.

“We have found kind of the center of what we believe in and what we’re trying to create and made a big effort to get together. We need to get our heads together so that we can offer this program a clear thought on what we’re trying to do and a clear message and all.”

Asked about that assessment last week, the somewhat puzzled look that washed across Schneider’s face was quickly replaced by a smile as he offered, “Pete is not afraid to play with people of different dimensions.”

And it’s Schneider’s job to find these players, starting with the draft but not exclusively through the draft.

NFL Scouting Combine

When: Today through Tuesday in Indianapolis.

What: 330 draft-eligible players will be tested and interviewed in preparation for the April 25-27 NFL Draft.

Who's Talking: Thursday - offensive linemen, tight ends, kickers, punters; Friday - quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers; Saturday - defensive linemen, linebackers; Sunday - defensive backs.

Who's Working Out: Saturday - offensive linemen, tight ends; Sunday - quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers; Monday - defensive linemen, linebackers; Tuesday - defensive backs.

Where To Watch: NFL Network will carry on-field workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday through Tuesday, as well as press conferences on Thursday and Friday; ESPN will have updates throughout each day.

Keep An Eye On: University of Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant, who will be wearing DB50 and is the brother of Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant; Eastern Washington University wide receiver Brandon Kaufman, who will be wearing WO18; and Washington State University wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who will be wearing WO38.

Like cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. The 6-foot-3 Sherman, a fifth-round draft choice in 2011, was voted All-Pro for the 2012 season after leading the league in passes defensed (24) and the team in interceptions (eight). The 6-4 Browner moved into the starting lineup on the right side in 2011, when he ended up playing in the Pro Bowl – after being signed to a future contact in January, and after spending four seasons playing in the CFL because no other NFL team would give him a chance.

Like defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant. The 254-pound Clemons has proved to be a perfect fit at the Leo spot in Carroll’s scheme since being acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, as evidenced by his team-leading sack totals the past three seasons (11, 11 and 11.5) – his first three seasons as a starter in the league following stints as a situational player in five other seasons with three other teams. The 323-pound Bryant was a seldom-used tackle in his first two seasons with the Seahawks before Quinn, then the defensive line coach, came up with the idea of trying Bryant opposite Clemons in 2010. The results have been stunning, as the Seahawks’ success at stopping the run has paralleled Bryant’s availability and effectiveness because of knee (2010) and foot (2012) injuries.

Like safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. What Thomas lacks in size (5-10, 202), the first-round draft choice from 2010 more than makes up for with speed, range and instincts. He was voted All-Pro in 2012 and has played in the Pro Bowl the past two seasons. What Chancellor lacks in speed he more than compensates for with his size (6-3, 232) and physical style, as he has finished second and third in tackles in two seasons as the starter after being a fifth-round draft choice in 2010.

You get the picture: The Seahawks aren’t always looking at players the same way other teams in the league would look at those same players.

And it all goes back to the unique pairing that former CEO Tod Leiweke created in January of 2010 when he hired Carroll as the Seahawks coach and eight days later added Schneider as the GM.

“If you asked Tod, that’s the primary reason he brought us together,” Schneider said. “Because he felt what we did in Green Bay – acquiring as young a team as we did there – and then Pete having played all the young people he played at USC, I think he felt we were a good mix.”

Said Carroll, “John’s been incredible. He’s had tremendous freedom and I trust him in every way. And he trusts me in every way. It allows us to really function at a high level and function quickly and be involved in everything. … So with great drafts the last couple years, I think it’s really given us a chance to look forward with a lot of hopefulness.”

A big plus in their successful relationship has been the productive relationships between their staffs. The scouts have learned what types of players Carroll and his assistants are looking for, while the assistant coaches have been open to ideas presented by Schneider and his scouts.

“We’ve been on the same page enough and been through this enough with the coaches where we know when we’re putting our board together and we’re choosing players, we’re selecting players for the coaches that we know will fit the coaches’ philosophy at each position and have a legitimate chance to compete,” Schneider said. “That’s all you can ask for a coaching staff – guys that are willing to teach and let guys compete.”

As former coach Chuck Knox always said, it’s the scouts who can tell you if a prospect can play, it’s the assistant coaches who can tell you if that player can play for you.

“We breakdown each player from just a pure athletic standpoint at the beginning. We breakdown their game as it is now,” said Fitterer, who’s in his fourth year as director of college scouting after spending 8½ years as a scout for the organization.

“Then we put them through the filter for our team – because we grade specifically for our team, we don’t grade for the NFL. So they have to fit our scheme.”

That’s what the pre-Combine meetings that brought both staffs together were all about. The scouts present what the players have done in college and then the group determines their value to the Seahawks – does he have the skills to play a position the way it needs to be played in this system, and can he do it better than the players who already are on the roster.

“Pete and his staff have done a great job of telling us what exactly they’re looking for,” Fitterer said. “And then some guys just have such a unique skill set that our coaches are great at adapting and letting players come in. If they think they can make plays, they’ll figure out a role for them. They’ll create a role if they have to.

“The flexibility of this staff is incredible that way.”

Like the way they found a role for Chancellor as a rookie. He wasn’t the starter because Lawyer Milloy was, and Carroll wanted the veteran strong safety as part of the last line of defense to help Thomas as a rookie starter. But during the bye week, Carroll used Chancellor at strong safety during practice to see if he could allow Milloy to step up as a disruptive presence closer to the line of scrimmage in a three-safety package. In the post-bye week upset of the Bears in Chicago, the Bears’ offense had no answers for Milloy as he blitzed and created mismatches.

“With Kam, he’s smart, instinctive, obviously very tough,” Schneider said. “So with him, it was a matter of his flexibility and making sure that because he’s such a big man he’ll be able to break down in space.”

Chancellor slapped affirmative answers on those concerns in the second half of his rookie season, so he was more than ready to step in as the starter the following season.

“Pete’s so open-minded, and his staff is so open-minded, we have a really good football operation because we don’t conduct ourselves like we have it all figured out,” Schneider said. “We’re constantly asking questions and searching for knowledge.”

It’s not that the Seahawks are rewriting the book on how to approach the draft, but the freedom in the way they prepare for it has been invigorating for the scouts as they spend countless hours evaluating prospects.

“It gives you more flexibility to keep guys alive,” said Berry, who scouts the Southwest region where the Seahawks found Thomas and Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung at Texas and Oklahoma State in 2010; and middle linebacker and leading tackler Bobby Wagner and running back Robert Turbin last year.

“If a guy can play, that gives you hope that they’re going to find a way to make that guy’s skill set fit with everybody else. So you try not to pick apart the things they can’t do. You keep your focus on what they can do.”

In this instance, Bryant provides the prime example. A fourth-round draft choice in 2008, he was inactive (24 games) far more than he played (10 games) during his first two seasons as a tackle. Then Quinn had his how-about moment in 2010, and Bryant has blossomed into a run-stuffing force.

“They found a way to get his unique skill set so it was productive and he’s become a good player,” Berry said. “It happened quickly, because our coaches were into to it and Pete and John were into it. The tone was set from the top.”

Because Schneider and Carroll were able to find their common ground – even if it’s not everyone else’s common ground – so quickly. And efficiently. And successfully.

“When we’re selecting players, we’re giving the coaches players who are legitimate competitors at each position,” Schneider said. “Rather than having a head coach who has his mind made up and he’s not going to change and be flexible, Pete is very flexible in terms of the players that we can provide.”

The poster player for that shared outlook is Russell Wilson, the “too little” quarterback the Seahawks selected in the third round last April – to almost unanimous second-guessing. But after the way Wilson played in leading the Seahawks to the third-best regular-season record in club history (11-5) and the franchise’s first road playoff victory since 1983, it was the Seahawks who were laughing all the way to within a two-point loss to the Falcons in Atlanta of reaching the NFC Championship game.

It was Schneider who was the first to fall in love with the intangibles and unique skill set that Wilson possesses, and he helped Carroll become just as enamored by the possibilities the rookie QB offered.

“Yeah,” Schneider said when asked about that scenario where Wilson went from being a might-want to a must-have prospect. “We kind of have mutual respect in terms of the job they do in coaching the team and teaching the guys. And that’s exciting for us when we’re picking the players. And I think they have mutual respect for us picking the players.”

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