Perusing potential picks

Posted Feb 22, 2012

John Schneider, Pete Carroll and their staffs will call Indianapolis home this week as the Seahawks use the Scouting Combine to continue evaluating just which players they hope to acquire in April’s NFL Draft.

INDIANAPOLIS – The lead-up to the NFL equivalent of Christmas morning has begun. You can tell by the smile on John Schneider’s face and the blurriness of his gaze.

The Seahawks’ third-year general manager is in the city that just hosted Super Bowl XLVI for the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins Wednesday and runs through Tuesday. Also here are the rest of Schneider’s staff, as well as coach Pete Carroll and his staff.

They will watch the players’ workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium, which run Saturday through Tuesday and will be televised by the NFL Network; interview select players; and come away with medical reports on all the participants.

For Schneider and his scouts, the Combine is just the next quantum step in an evaluation process that already has included 17 days of meetings at Virginia Mason Athletic Center and will continue as the team builds its draft board with more meetings; the players’ Pro Day workouts at their colleges and universities; more meetings; additional visits with chosen players; and more meetings.

“Our primary goal at the Combine is to get as many questions answered as possible from the meetings we’ve just had for the past 17 days,” Schneider said. “That includes psychology questions, scheme-fit questions, medical questions, any background questions, any character questions.

For Carroll and his coaches, the Combine will provide a first up-close look at the players that the scouts have been evaluating for the past 12 months or longer.

“We’ve given the coaches some players to start evaluating that they’re going to be interviewing at the Combine,” Schneider said. “Because for them, they’re just starting to get to know the guys and it’s their first exposure to the players the scouts have been looking at.”

Their combined efforts will be on display April 26-28 during the three-day NFL Draft. That’s where the overused, but still appropriate, Christmas-morning analogy comes into play, because the countless hours of preparation and anticipation will finally produce players to help the Seahawks improve on the 7-9 records they have posted in each of Carroll’s first two seasons.

The first round has been good to the Seahawks the past two years, as they selected left tackle Russell Okung (sixth pick overall in 2010), Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas (14th pick overall in 2010) and right tackle James Carpenter (25th pick overall last year). This year, the Seahawks will select either 11th or 12th in the first round, with the position to be determined here on Friday in a coin flip with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The second and third rounds the past two years produced wide receiver Golden Tate (second round in 2010) and right guard John Moffitt (third round last year). But, in large part because of injuries to Okung, Carpenter and Moffitt, the fourth through seventh rounds have been even better to the Seahawks.

Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor was a fifth-round pick in 2010, while the fourth and fifth rounds last year delivered two more starters – strongside linebacker K.J. Wright (fourth) and cornerback Richard Sherman (fifth).

Other later-round picks the past two seasons include tight end Anthony McCoy, pass-rusher Dexter Davis and the versatile and athletic Jameson Konz in 2010; and cornerback Byron Maxwell, defensive lineman Pep Levingston and linebacker Malcolm Smith last year.

“The first draft, we were proud of,” Schneider said. “But we had the two high picks. But Pete and I also were together for the first time. We had a new coaching staff. We had an old scouting system, and I came in with a new system. So we kind of plugged everything together and just kind of pounded through it.

“Last year, obviously it was a fluid process because it was our first time through as one group – with one grading scale and more of a clear focus on everybody speaking the same language. We were proud of that group last year because we really focused on the toughness of the group.”

So rather than focus entirely on who the Seahawks might take in the first round, it’s worth keeping an eye on those second- and third-day picks as well.

“It’s just a focus on never feeling that you have all the answers,” Schneider said of the ability to hit on later picks – and also find players after the draft like Doug Baldwin, the rookie free agent who led the team in receiving last season. “We have to approach these meetings like we’re trying to learn as much as we possibly can about each player, and prove one way or the other what type of player the guy is.”

Take Chancellor, for example. At first glance, the thought process might lead to the 6-foot-3, 232-pound Chancellor being too big to play the safety position. But just look at what he was able to accomplish last season, his first as a starter: 94 tackles, to rank second on the team; four interceptions, to tie for second; 12 passes defensed, to rank third; as well as a sack, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

The last time the Seahawks had a strong safety produce 90-plus tackles was Reggie Tongue (93) in 2002, and the last time a strong safety had more tackles than Chancellor was Jay Bellamy (98) in 1998. The only other strong safeties in franchise history to produce more tackles than Chancellor had last season? Keith Simpson with 110 in 1980; Kenny Easley with 107 in 1981; Robert Blackmon with 102 in 1996; and Nesby Glasgow with 97 in 1989.

“Every year, there’s been a guy where it’s: What’s in their heart? How much urgency and determination do they have? It’s a hard thing to evaluate,” Schneider said. “But if you have a strong conviction for a guy later on in the draft, that’s something that would standout.

“And Kam would be one of those players – somebody that you knew was smart, tough and reliable.”

And a player the Seahawks acquired with the 133rd pick in the draft.

So it’s no wonder that Schneider never has met a draft pick he didn’t like, or one he wouldn’t like to have.

“I personally believe that if you believe in your process, which we do, than it just makes more sense to have more picks,” he said. “If we have more picks then we’re drafting Jeron Johnson, and we’re drafting Doug Baldwin, and we’re drafting Josh Portis. Luckily those guys came to us as free agents.

“But I believe in our system, I believe in our process, so it doesn’t necessarily matter where you’re picking the players. People can pick apart how you acquire a player, or where you acquire a player, but I think after time that kind of goes away.”

Who the Seahawks will select in the first round this year remains to be seen, of course. But it’s a good bet that they will get a good player at either No. 11 or No. 12 – be it a quarterback, or a pass-rusher; a fast linebacker, or a versatile defensive lineman; or even a running back.

So, let the process continue, and cue the countdown to Christmas morning, NFL style.