Just the beginning

Posted Jan 21, 2010

Now that the Seahawks have a new general manager and coach, the real work begins: Finding players who can help this team rediscover its winning ways.

Untitled DocumentIf anyone deserves to heave a prolonged sigh of relief, or at least a lengthy yawn, it is Tod Leiweke.

Wednesday, the Seahawks’ CEO presided over his second major introductory news conference in nine days. An arduous process to reshape the power structure of the team’s football operations that began in early December had not only produced a new coach (Pete Carroll) and a new general manager (John Schneider), it necessitated Leiweke let go two men he still considers friends (Jim Mora and Tim Ruskell).

“I’m satisfied, but I also would say it’s been super hard,” Leiweke offered. “Tim Ruskell is a friend of mine. Jim Mora is a friend of mine. I think there probably are a few things I might have done a little different, but it also was a different circumstance.

“It’s the kind of stuff that keeps you awake at night.”

After allowing himself a few moments of reflection following Schneider’s introductory news conference, Leiweke offered nine words that set the table for what awaits Schneider and Carroll in the hours, days, weeks and months to come.

“There’s certain relief, but we’ve only now just begun,” Leiweke said.

Now that Carroll and Schneider are in place, their collaborative task is reshaping and restocking what ultimately will be a 53-man roster capable of producing at least nine wins in one season – after two seasons where the Seahawks totaled nine victories.

Schneider and Carroll do not want to put a clock, or even calendar, on just how long it will take the Seahawks to become competitive again.

As Carroll put it, “We talked about not putting a timeline on it, because we don’t know. … I wouldn’t want to tell you how many games we’re going to try to win or how many games we’re going to lose. We’re not even there right now. We’re just going to get as good as we can as soon as we can.”

Neither is wasting any time moving in that direction.

Carroll went from his introductory news conference last week to reviewing video of linebacker Aaron Curry, the team’s first-round pick in last year’s NFL draft. By the time Schneider took the stage Wednesday for his introductory session, he already had laid out a schedule leading up to the NFL scouting combine in late February.

It’s a leaving-no-stone-unturned approach to acquiring talent – and using it properly – that Schneider learned from former Packers general manager Ron Wolf and current GM Ted Thompson during his two stints in Green Bay; and Carroll developed after leaving the NFL and embarking on his unprecedented nine-year run of success at the University of Southern California.

The preferred avenue is the draft, where the Seahawks hold the sixth and 14th selections in the first round and the 40th pick overall in the second round. There’s also free agency, where it appears the Seahawks will tread more prudently than they have in recent years.

“I would say that, obviously, the draft is your life blood,” Schneider said. “But I also think you can supplement your roster in free agency, and I think you can supplement your roster with ‘reserve/future’ guys – some minor league players here and there that step up, come out of nowhere.”

Think David Hawthorne, the undrafted second-year middle linebacker who stepped in this season after Pro Bowler Lofa Tatupu was injured to lead the team in tackles. Or, Atari Bigby, who made the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2005, played in NFL Europe and, in his first season as a starter (2007), led the team in interceptions (five) and posted the most tackles (121) by a defensive back since 1990.

“We’re not going to turn our backs on anybody,” Schneider said. “We’re going to figure out what we have and we’re going to move forward and try to improve that every day. That’s the only way I know how.”

What they have, and how best to use it. That plays into Carroll’s story about breaking down video of Curry, who had a good rookie season but was not as impactful as some of the other linebackers in his draft class.

“I hadn’t been here an hour and I already had a cutup down and I’m trying to figure out Aaron Curry: What does he have in a unique skill set that we can utilize and implement?” Carroll said. “I can’t speak more poignantly about exercising the approach and the philosophy. I was after it an hour after being in the building. We will do that with everybody in the program, and everybody that we draft and bring into the club.”

The idea is creating better competition – for each starting spot, and each roster spot. Schneider got a taste of that philosophy in 1993, his first full season with the Packers and Mike Holmgren’s second as the coach.

“I remember, as a young man, my first experience in the league and coach Holmgren telling our team in Green Bay,” Schneider said. “He pointed at Brett Favre and said, ‘That guy’s making the team.’ And he pointed at Reggie White and said, ‘That guy’s making the team. The rest of y’all, you better strap it up.’ ”

The telltale recollection was greeted by laughter. But Schneider wasn’t kidding. The competition for roster spots already has begun, and the Seahawks do not have a Favre or White on their current 53-man roster.

What kind of players are Schneider and Carroll looking for? While character will remain a factor, it will not be stressed to the extreme that it was for five years under Ruskell. Or as Leiweke put it, “Certainly in his interview, John said, ‘Character matters, but we also want these kinds of guys.’ His view of character might have been more broadly defined than Tim’s was when Tim came in.”

It gets back to going anywhere to look at any player who will increase the competitive aspect of the roster – not just the final 53, but the 80 players who will go to training camp this summer.

Schneider did not want to get into specifics about anyone currently on the roster, or anyone the team might target in free agency or the draft.

Instead, he said, “I love tough, smart, fast, passionate football players.”

To which Carroll responded, “There you go.”