Following the bouncing O’Brien Schofield

Posted Aug 21, 2013

In his first four weeks with the Seahawks, linebacker/Leo end O’Brien Schofield hasn’t just played three positions, he has made plays from each position while flexing his obvious versatility.

In asking Dan Quinn about O’Brien Schofield, should the question center on O’Brien Schofield the strong-side linebacker, O’Brien Schofield the Leo end in the base defense or O’Brien Schofield the Leo end in the nickel defense?

“Ask about versatility,” Quinn said Wednesday after the Seahawks’ practice, where O’Brien added Leo end in the nickel to his ever-expanding resume.

Just don’t ask where the former linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals fits best, because the coaches still are figuring that out by finding out just how many things Schofield can do to make an already good defense even better.

It also can be head-spinning trying to track Schofield on any given play – or segment of practice, for that matter. Today, he worked with the linebackers in the early individual drills before moving to the defensive line drills. He also took his reps as a lineman in the one-on-one pass-rush drill. Once the full-team drills began, he was rushing the passer, covering the tight end and playing contain; slamming into Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung, slashing through a gap between guard and center and, at times, window shopping along the line before the snap to find the most-favorable path to the passer.

How does Schofield know where he’s supposed to be for any given drill, or on any given snap?

“Man, I just listen up,” he said with a laugh. “I’m playing a lot of different positions right now. And today, I was moving around a lot while playing Leo end in the nickel package for the first time. That’s something I’ve got to get used to. I didn’t feel that comfortable today because I just started doing it.

“But once I get home and start studying it I’ll be perfectly fine.”

It’s all part of the grand plan the coaches have had for Schofield since he was claimed off waivers at the start of training camp.

“We started him off at linebacker, knowing there was more involved in that position in terms of the learning and the coverage – more so than Leo,” Quinn said. “We thought it would be the better transition, to start at Sam (strong-side linebacker).”

So far, Schofield has been clutch wherever he’s lined up in this transition process. He has played well enough at strong-side linebacker that coach Pete Carroll thinks he can challenge for the starting job that opened when K.J. Wright was moved to the weak side, where Leroy Hill was the starter last season.

He started at Leo end in the base defense in Saturday night’s preseason opener against the Denver Broncos and had one of the Seahawks’ four sacks – although his came with style points because he forced a fumble and recovered it to setup a touchdown. Today, he was working at the Leo spot in the nickel defense and could play there in Friday night’s preseason game against the Packers in Green Bay.

“He’s doing well,” Quinn said. “There are times when you just need extra coaching, you need extra turns. And to his credit, he wants to come in to get the extra work to get it. So he’s off to a good start.”

Talk about a crash course in the more things you can do. Schofield started nine games at strong-side linebacker for the Cardinals last season before getting a season-ending knee injury. So that’s obviously his comfort zone.

“I was thinking, ‘Man, I’d like to play just one position, just to grasp it and dominate it,” he said. “But at the same time, in this business and on this team, there are so many guys that are good and so many guys that are competing in so many different areas that it’s good to be able to play everything.”

It’s the versatility factor that Quinn mentioned, and it could end up getting Schofield more overall snaps than if he was the starter at one spot – especially if it’s strong-side linebacker, because that player leaves the field in the nickel package and is replaced by a third cornerback.

“I could be getting a lot of reps at Sam, I could be getting a lot of reps at Leo, I could be getting a lot of reps at defensive end, but not be starting,” he said. “I’ll be fine with that because I’ll be able to play three different positions, and being versatile allows you to be on the field a lot more in different situations.”

With Schofield, it’s not just where he’s lining up, but who’s lining up around him as first-year line coach Travis Jones has been forced to juggle his units because of injuries, but also is doing it to determine which combinations work best in which situations.

“You’ve got to be able to play with everybody,” Schofield said. “You don’t know which combination of guys you’re going to be in with, and you get to learn how each guy plays.”

Regardless of where he might be playing on any given snap.

“My biggest focus has been whatever they put in front of me is just to do well at it and show them that I can do it,” Schofield said. “Practice is learning. You can make mistakes in practice. But when you get to the game, just to be productive and make them be like, ‘Wow, look at this guy.’”