Another draft, another infusion of talent

Posted Apr 23, 2012

Pete Carroll's goal for his team is to become so solid that draft choices will have a tough time getting playing time. Until that happens, the Seahawks coach will continue to rely on young talent.

Pete Carroll would like to reach the point where it will be very difficult for a draft choice to crack the Seahawks’ starting lineup, or even earn playing time.

But in his third year as coach, Carroll knows his team is not there yet as the Seahawks finalized their preparation for this year’s NFL Draft – with the first round set for Thursday night, rounds two and three being conducted on Friday and the process being completed Saturday with the final four rounds.

“That’s what we’re hoping for – we want the roster so competitive that really good draft picks are fighting for play time,” Carroll said Monday, when he and general manager John Schneider had a pre-draft Q&A session with reporters at Virginia Mason Athletic Center.

“That means the guys ahead of them are better. That’s what John has been advocating since we got together – getting this roster young and competitive and we’d see the benefits of it.”

While Carroll and Schneider have taken giant steps in that direction during their first two years on the job, the Seahawks still have needs as they enter their third draft together. An edge pass-rusher is high on Carroll’s list, but he’d also like to add to competitive aspect of the roster by adding a touchdown-maker on offense, a young quarterback and depth and unique qualities at linebacker. Carroll said he’s even open to adding to the already large pile on the offensive line and the talented collection in the secondary, if the right player is there.

Youth definitely has been served since Carroll arrived, and it took a change in coaching philosophy for him to embrace the play-younger approach. With his seemingly endless reserve of energy, it’s difficult to remember that Carroll cut his NFL coaching teeth on the staff of Bud Grant with the Minnesota Vikings from 1985-89.

“Through all those years at SC,” Carroll said, referring to his ridiculously successful nine-year run at the University of Southern California, “I totally shifted from the old coaches’ perspective of that. Being the head coach and the GM and all of that in college, I forced young guys to show us where they fit.”

His previous philosophy? “Classically that young guys are going to get you beat,” Carroll said. “They’ll make mistakes and they’re going to lose for you.

“One of my favorite coaches ever, Bud Grant, said one time, ‘For every young guy you start, you lose a game.’ That was classic, traditional thinking. I was of that mindset, in classic fashion, until I had to be in charge of calling all the shots. And then it just flipped in me that we don’t know where we’re going if we don’t find these guys out.”

With the Seahawks, Carroll has been paired with Schneider, who came to Seattle from Green Bay where the Packers were traditionally one of the youngest teams in the league – if not the youngest.

The proof of their shared attitude toward playing younger players is the team they put on the field last season. They played half the season with rookies on the right side of the offensive line, before season-ending knee injuries erased James Carpenter and John Moffitt from the equation. Doug Baldwin, a rookie free agent, led the team in receiving. By the end of the season, rookie K.J. Wright was starting at strongside linebacker and the secondary included first-year starters in cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman and strong safety Kam Chancellor – with Browner and Chancellor being joined on the NFC Pro Bowl team by free safety Earl Thomas, a second-year starter.

The sudden development of these players – with five being acquired in the draft last year and two others in the first draft conducted by Schneider and Carroll – has allowed the Seahawks to compensate for the void created by previous drafts.

Of the 37 players selected in the five drafts from 2005-09, seven remain on the roster – linebacker Leroy Hill (2005), wide receiver Ben Obomanu (2006), defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (2007), defensive end Red Bryant (2008) and the trio of center Max Unger, wide receiver Deon Butler and tight end Cameron Morrah (2009).

It should have been those drafts that stocked the current roster with veterans. Instead, Carroll and Schneider have compensated by adding them in other ways – the trades to acquire defensive end Chris Clemons, leading rusher Marshawn Lynch and kick returner Leon Washington; and the free-agent additions of defensive tackle Alan Branch and Pro Bowl fullback Michael Robinson. All entered the league from 2003-07, with other teams.

“Experience is real important, when you have it,” Carroll said, smiling and then laughing slightly. “We’re not going that way. Our guys will develop into our program guys. And they’ll be the heart and soul of the culture. Guys like Earl Thomas, who in just his third year is really a heart-and-soul guy in this program. Marshawn is one of those guys on offense. And Mike Robinson is one of those guys.

“They all came different ways to us. But they’re becoming this program.” 

Then there is the continuing compiling of all those young players who have played beyond their experience level – and the expectations for old-school coaches like Grant and Chuck Knox, who guided the Seahawks from 1983-91.

“I think it’s one of the primary reasons they brought us together,” said Schneider, who was hired eight days after Carroll in January of 2010. “Coming from USC, and all the success they had there with coach Carroll and all the guys that were first-round draft choices who came in the league and people saw those guys play right away – how they were coached, how they were taught.

“And then (me) coming from Green Bay, where we were the youngest team in the league.”

As Carroll interjected, “It all fit together nicely for us.”