As Scouting Combine beckons, Seahawks scouts already have done their due diligence

Behind the scenes: Coming off draft meetings that began in Phoenix the week of the Super Bowl and concluded last Friday, the Seahawks are off to Indianapolis looking for even more building-block players.

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As John Schneider emerged from another marathon session in the Draft Room, the Seahawks' general manager was blinded by the light.

No, Schneider had not just been struck by a bolt of inspiration as to which player the team might select with the 31st pick in the NFL Draft on April 30. It was the late-afternoon sunshine blasting through the windows on the south side of Virginia Mason Athletic Center last week that had Schneider shielding his eyes.

With Schneider and his staff heading to Indianapolis this week for the NFL Scouting Combine, they have been spending a lot of time in dark rooms evaluating and re-evaluating this year's draft class. The meetings started three weeks ago in Phoenix, when the current players were preparing for their Super Bowl XLIX matchup with the New England Patriots. The position-by-position sessions continued once Schneider and the scouts returned to VMAC, finally wrapping up last Friday.

There's also the start of free agency on March 10 to deal with, as well as the ongoing negotiations for contract extensions with quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch. But the draft has provided the sustenance for the two-time Super Bowl team Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have been so busy building since they arrived in January 2010.

"This is our busy time of year," director of college scouting Scott Fitterer said. "Even though the season ended, this is where it picks up for us."

For the scouts, the "busy time" began in January with the college all-star games.

"That's really our first chance to sit down with the players and get to know them," Fitterer said. "We've evaluated them. We've heard from coaches about how they work, their character. So we know from secondary sources about the players. But this was our chance to sit down, talk to them and figure out who they are – the person, and the path they've taken to get where they are."

There are interview sessions at the Combine, as well. But they're limited to 15 minutes and most of the players have been coached on how to respond to questions.

"And the players tend to open up more in a one-on-one situation than in a group," Fitterer said in comparing the two interview opportunities.   

Fitterer oversees the college scouting department – which also includes national scouts Matt Berry and Ed Dodds; area scouts Jason Barnes, Todd Brunner, Aaron Hineline, Jim Nagy and Tyler Ramsey; National Football Scouting representative Josh Graff; and college scouting coordinator Kirk Parrish.

At the Combine, Carroll and his staff and director of pro personnel Trent Kirchner and his staff will get their first up-close-and-personal looks at the players these scouts have been analyzing for the past year, or longer.

By the time the Draft arrives, all these analytical avenues will have reached a common ground when it comes to which players best suit the way Carroll wants to play. And the Seahawks' consensus rarely matches those of the so-called experts.

Exhibit A: The 2012 Draft Class, when the Seahawks' selections of Bruce Irvin in the first round, Bobby Wagner in the second round and Wilson, the "too-short" QB, in the third round were unanimously panned.

In this case, hindsight isn't just 20-20; it has left a lot of pundits with the analytical equivalent of a black eye. Irvin, who was considered a one-trick-pony of a pass rusher, has developed into an every-down linebacker. Wagner, who does so many things so well from his middle linebacker spot, was voted All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl in his third season. And all Wilson has done is win more games in his first three seasons than any quarterback in the Super Bowl era.

But there have been so many other picks, especially in the middle and late rounds, that have paid huge benefits for the Seahawks under Schneider and Carroll: All-Pro strong safety Kam Chancellor (fifth round) in 2010; linebacker and 2014 leading tackler K.J. Wright (fourth round), All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman (fifth round), cornerback Byron Maxwell (sixth) and Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith (seventh round) in 2011; nickel back Jeremy Lane (sixth round) and right guard J.R. Sweezy (seventh round) in 2012; and cornerback Tharold Simon and tight end Luke Willson (fifth round) in 2013.

And don't forget leading receiver Doug Baldwin (2011), big-play receiver Jermaine Kearse (2012) and special teams standouts Jeron Johnson and Mike Morgan (2011), who were signed as rookie free agents after not being drafted.

"Everyone wants to focus on the top-tier guys, the first two or three rounds," Fitterer said. "The bulk of our team, and the core of our team, has come in rounds four through seven and free agency. We spend as much, if not more time, on those guys.

"John takes great pride in finding those guys, and we do it as a group. That's kind of our identity."

So those late-round "hits" that Seahawks have made are not a matter of luck. It's all about being on the same page when it comes to looking at players – and how those players will fit and where. And that really became apparent during the lockout that erased the 2011 offseason.

"The coaches gave a presentation to the group, 'Hey, this is what we're looking for. This is our philosophy. This is what we want in, say, the wide receiver group,' " Fitterer said. "They listed everything that they're looking for and the type of player that want, the type of person they want, just the whole makeup.

"I thought that was the one time that we really came together and jelled, that we understood what they wanted. And there's great respect between the two sides. I think that comes from John and Pete, and the respect they have for each other. We see that. So the coaches have followed that and the scouts have followed that."

And look where it has led them.

It also helps that everyone who has been sharing those dark rooms also shares an undeniable realization of what their shared efforts are all about.

"This is our lifeblood – the Draft," Fitterer said. "It's how we build our team."

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