INDIANAPOLIS—The Seahawks continued their work at the NFL Scouting Combine Thursday, a week that is just one part of what head coach Pete Carroll called "a giant process" of evaluating college prospects.
"This is a giant process and the guys don't work on it just in the weeks leading in; they have been working on it year round, and I respect the job that they do tremendously, and (coaches) fit into their world here when we can," Carroll said. "So our guys are here doing evaluations and interviews and just trying to help gather the information that is so important to us. The combine is one major spot here where we can all gather and do our work, and yet this is just a part of it so there is a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes."
Before getting back to that evaluating process, Carroll held a press conference Thursday covering a number of topics, including injury updates and some changes to the coaching staff. In addition to that news, here are five takeaways from Carroll's press conference:
1. The Seahawks see undrafted free agency as an extension of the draft.
The Seahawks have had uncommon success finding undrafted free-agent talent. Pro Bowlers Doug Baldwin and Michael Bennett went undrafted. So too did starters like DeShawn Shead, Jermaine Kearse, Thomas Rawls, George Fant and Garry Gilliam. Last year the Seahawks opened the season with a league-high 24 undrafted players on their 53-man roster, and at points during the season, more than half of the roster was undrafted.
There are a lot of reasons for that, ranging from an ability to spot talent other teams might miss, to the way the coaching staff allows those players to truly compete for jobs. And when it comes to evaluation and acquisition part, the Seahawks see undrafted free agency as an extension of the draft, something Carroll touched on Thursday when asked about the late-round picks who have succeeded with the Seahawks.
"We don't see any round as more valuable than any other round. We're going through it and we go nine, 10, 11, 12—how many picks can we get?" Carroll said. "The (undrafted) free agent guys we're able to sign are so extraordinarily important to us. Just look at our numbers again, half of our roster again was undrafted players, so it's obvious it's a big deal to us. It doesn't mean they're lesser players, they're just guys who maybe weren't picked up along the way, but we found a way to make it work. I think it has a lot to do with our coaching staff as well. I don't think it's just the choices that we make. I think it's the willingness and the approach of developing those guys and giving them the opportunity as opposed to saying, 'OK, here's the guys we're really focusing on, and these guys are just going to fill some spots.' We don't do it that way. Everybody on our roster is extraordinarily valuable to us and we're going to try to see how far we can take them. It's a combination of all of that that makes that happen."
2. "Everybody's pumped up" about what Jimmy Graham can do in 2017.
Jimmy Graham caught 65 passes for 923 yards last season, both franchise bests for a tight end, and he earned Pro Bowl honors for that impressive performance. Yet as well as Graham played, he wasn't at his best having come back from the torn patellar tendon that ended his 2015 season. Graham missed all of offseason workouts, much of training camp and was barely able to make it back for the start of the season. This year, Graham is fully healthy, meaning he can spend the offseason focusing on football, not rehabbing an injury.
"It's really one of the beautiful things that's happening this offseason is that Jimmy has a chance to work out and get better," Carroll said. "Last year, he was just rehabbing. If you can imagine at this time last year, he was looking at that scar and wondering if he's ever going to be able to run again. He barely made it back to camp, then barely made it into the season, then had a marvelous season under all of those circumstances. Under any normal circumstances he had a marvelous season. In communicating with him, he feels great. He's thrilled about the chance to work out, he's going to be working Russell (Wilson) wherever they get together and do their thing; they're looking forward to that. They didn't have the chance to do that last year. He couldn't run; he couldn't work out. And the amazing thing is that he had such a good season under those circumstances, so we're really looking forward to what comes up, and I know he is too and everybody's pumped up about it."
And Graham isn't the only player at his position about whom the Seahawks are excited. Carroll noted that the Seahawks "are really excited" about Nick Vannett heading into the tight end's second season.
3. Carroll is looking forward to the competition at running back.
The Seahawks battled injuries at running back last season, but when healthy, both C.J. Prosise and Thomas Rawls have shown a lot of potential. Carroll is looking forward to letting those two battle for playing time and even a starting job heading into 2017.
"Our team is all about competition, and every time we come back to camp it's going to start all over again," Carroll said. "Guys have made statements about who they are and then they have to come back and reestablish that and take it as far as they can. There is nothing in the way of C.J. Thomas Rawls is a terrific player on our team, too, who had a very difficult season, he was banged up all year, so those two guys come back to camp really raring to go and we are looking forward to that."
That being said, Carroll hopes both backs will have big roles in the offense, regardless of who earns the starting role.
"I've been asked that for 15 years if it's better to have two running backs for one," Carroll said. "I've always thought that's really valuable when you can have two guys or three guys that you can work, and we have not had any hesitation going back to our college days. If there's a guy that's so dominant that nobody else deserves the play time, then you've got a great one. But I don't think it's any more so today than ever before. We have always been an advocate of having a 1-2 punch kind of formula."
4. The Seahawks like the potential for growth with their current group of offensive linemen, but will also look to add competition.
If the Seahawks open next season with the same five offensive linemen who finished the 2016 season in starting the lineup—George Fant, Mark Glowinski, Justin Britt, Germain Ifedi and Garry Gilliam—they would expect to see a lot of improvement from that group just based on how much room for growth there is in such a young group. But if those five are the starters in 2017, they're going to have to beat out players the Seahawks could add in the draft and free agency.
"What's important to us is that we develop," Carroll said. "There are opportunities along the way, free agency is coming up next week, and we have a chance to do some things there—we'll see what's available to us—very aggressively and very actively. We will go into the draft process in the same fashion, and we'll go right through the whole season developing our young guys. One thing we do know is that our young guys are going to get better. They're going to make hopefully a significant first-year to second-year jump like most players do, and that will really help us as we move forward. But we need to make those positions as competitive as possible. If we can bring in a guy to take a spot, we got better. If we can bring in a guy who makes another guy have to play better to hold his spot, we're getting better. That's just the basic thinking that we have. Every step along the way, we're going to try to max it out."
In particular, the Seahawks would expect to see a huge leap in Year 2 from George Fant if the former college basketball player is able to hold onto his starting spot.
"We were very surprised that he was able to even compete," Carroll said. "It was a shock that he could compete, but he showed quite early that he was physically capable. Then he was a beautiful competitor as well, he had a great mentality for going for it. He wasn't overwhelmed by it. Then he did a terrific job to take it as far as he did. He was under the gun a bunch, it was as hard as you could get for a young guy. That's just the way it worked out with the injury situation and his opportunity to take advantage of it. But he should grow more than anybody can possibly grow. He has played less than anybody, so hopefully he'll make a big jump for us."
5. Free agency news.
While the new league year has not yet started, the Seahawks already made one potentially significant addition to their roster, signing kicker Blair Walsh last month. Carroll talked a bit about that move, and also gave some other free agency updates.
Carroll said the Seahawks intend to bring back right tackle Garry Gilliam, who is a restricted free agent, and said they still hope to re-sign tight end Luke Willson, who will be an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins next week.
"Sure," Carroll said when asked if they'll try to sign Willson. "We love Luke. Yeah."
As for the signing of Walsh, who was released by the Vikings during the season, Carroll echoed the comments of general manager John Schneider from a day earlier, saying Walsh was brought in to compete for the job, be that with Steven Hauschka if he were to re-sign as a free agent, or with a different kicker added between now and the start of training camp.
"Steven's a free agent," Carroll said. "He can go wherever he wants to go. I can't make a more vivid illustration of trying to improve the roster by bringing in competition of a high level. What a great opportunity to get a talented guy. The guy has kicked as well as anyone in football, in college and in the pros, when he's had his chances. And he's seen the other side of it, too, he knows how to bounce back. And so he's a tremendous talent. So he adds in and we'll see what happens. I don't know what's going to happen with the rest of it."
Photos of Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll meeting with the media on Thursday, March 2 at the 2017 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana.