INDIANAPOLIS—Pete Carroll made the media rounds at the NFL scouting combine on Thursday, and seemed particularly upbeat, even by his always-enthusiastic standards. Given the way his team finished the 2018 season, winning six of its last seven games to clinch a playoff spot, and with so many young players emerging in bigger roles last year, it’s easy to understand why Carroll was in such a positive mood, which leads the five things we learned from Carroll’s time with the media on Thursday:
1. Carroll thinks his team “can be really formidable” in 2019.
Expectations weren’t particularly high for the 2018 Seahawks, at least not outside of the organization, thanks to an offseason that saw the Seahawks part ways with a number of high-profile veterans and make significant changes to the coaching staff. But after starting the season 4-5, including back-to-back losses to open the year, the Seahawks found their way, winning six of their last seven to earn a Wild Card berth. That strong finish has Carroll excited about the future.
“It was so positive,” he said. “For all of the challenges that we faced in the offseason putting things together, so many challenges, even with ownership and everything. This team found a mentality and a direction and a focus and a spirit about them that really was thrilling to be a part of, and it’s thrilling to look towards the future with these guys. They're at the core of what this program is going to be all about. If we're able to keep growing and keep going with what we got, we have a chance to be a really good club. We can be really formidable. There's nobody in our building that thinks different. It's an exciting time.”
The fact that the Seahawks, who were the third-highest scoring team in the league over the final eight weeks of the season (30.0 points per game), will have another year under their belts working with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and offensive line coach Mike Solari, is yet another reason Carroll has high hopes for his team.
“The fact that we have had the whole year with Mike and with Brian and they have seen what our guys can do and how it fits together and the style and how it came together, we are just going to be better because of it,” Carroll said. “So we go ahead with a lot more really pointed information. It’s really exciting. This was an exciting season for us in that there was change and there was growth and that there is a big future. (Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.) worked out great, his side you know he did a great job for us, loved having him back in the building with our players, so I am excited about us. Same thing, with all of the things that we just did, now we get to take that next step with all of the new knowledge. So we will just be different and better in hopefully some really important ways.”
Asked what his team needs to do to take that next step and live up to its potential, Carroll said, “It’s the growth of the young guys so that we eliminate the bad stuff from happening. You’ve got to get rid of the bad plays and those are explosive plays, particularly on defense, that come to mind. The lousy start we had up front on offense the first couple of games—we couldn’t get going—we put that behind us, but those are the things that should smooth out and you are hoping that guys all are better, they are smarter, they are aware. Think of a guy like Delano (Hill), he is just going to be so much better prepared and he will just eliminate errors and eliminate miscues and little hesitations and stuff like that. You get a little bit better in a lot of spots, you get better immensely.”
2. Carroll’s thoughts on pending free agents, as well as Russell Wilson’s future.
Just as general manager John Schneider did a day earlier, Carroll made it clear that Frank Clark is in the team’s plans for 2019, and they hope for many more years to come.
“Frankie will be with us, yeah,” Carroll said.
Asked about a long-term deal, Carroll said, “It is ultimately (the goal), yeah. Frankie just turned 25, he's still a very young football player. Made a huge step this year in terms of leadership, growth and maturity. It was so obvious. I was really proud of seeing that develop for Frank. He played great too. Frank, he's a very valuable football player and that's the process we're in the middle of and all that, I can't tell you guys how that's going to turn out but it's going to be positive for the Seahawks and for Frank.”
Both of the Seahawks’ starting guards in 2018, D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy, are set to become free agents when the new league year begins, but Carroll hopes both will be back.
“I’m counting on (Fluker), yeah I’m counting on him,” Carroll said. “He did a great job last year, he had a big impact as did Sweez. We want both those guys back.
“It’s free agency you know, got to get through it. It’s all part of the process. We have a lot of depth in our relationships, we love those guys, they like what they were doing, they like being part of it. Mike Solari did a fantastic job with those guys. they appreciate the whole formula, so there are some positives in there, but you know, I don’t know how other teams look at those guys, but for us they really fit well so we’ll see if we can get that done. I don’t know that.”
Another player the Seahawks hope to keep if things work out in free agency is linebacker K.J. Wright, who battled a knee injury last year but finished strong.
"It was a frustrating, frustrating year for him, and like Doug (Baldwin) he didn't get to play like he normally does,” Carroll said. “But when he did he played really, really well. He's an incredible part of our program. He's such a tremendous asset, leader, performer, personality—everything about him. It's great to have him around. Hoping we can keep him. We will try to.”
On Earl Thomas, Carroll said the All-Pro free safety will test free agency, and that he’ll be rooting for Thomas no matter how things turn out.
“He has been an extraordinary player for us and part of everything that we’ve done,” Carroll said. “The fact that he’s at the end of his contract, it’s his choice now what he gets to do, that’s what free agency is all about. I’m all for whatever Earl decides; he has been a fantastic part of everything, and I’m rooting for him. We’ve just got to wait and see what happens, but he’s going to have some great choices I’m sure.”
As for quarterback Russell Wilson, who his heading into the final year of his contract, Carroll said, “We ended the season with a real good meeting. That's ongoing. We have a terrific relationship, we're working this thing out together throughout. That's another obviously big issue that's coming. Everything is lined up to be worked on here as we go forward.”
3. Carroll wants Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny to form “a one-two punch” in 2019.
While Chris Carson emerged as the clear-cut No. 1 option at running back last year, Carroll is open to the idea of Rashaad Penny pushing Carson for more playing time. Either way, he expects those two to form a strong rushing attack in 2019.
Asked what he expects to get from those two, Carroll said, “A one-two punch, and I don’t know who’s one and who’s two, it doesn’t matter to me. I thought both guys did a really good job this year. Chris had a fantastic season. It’s the first time Chris has had the opportunity to play a whole season all the way through, and it showed what he’s all about. It was exhilarating to watch him have that opportunity and to see him play. The style was great. We love the way he played. Rashaad did a really good job. He got banged up a little bit and it kind of slowed his start. But once he got going, he showed the explosiveness and the speed and the dynamics. Those two guys, they’re good football players and we love what they bring. They’re not the same, their running style are different, but there’s plenty of room for both of those guys, so I’m excited for both of them.”
4. The Seahawks made changes this offseason to help players “be the best they can be.”
The Seahawks made a number of changes to their strength and conditioning and athletic training staffs this offseason, moves Carroll hopes will help his players “be the best they can be.”
“It was opportunity for us to kick-start a new look at all of the areas that have to do with performance,” Carroll said. “We think philosophically it was going to be important to open up to the newness. I think we've fit it together in a way we can see things a little bit differently than we have in the past and just try to take us further into the understanding of what it takes to help our guys play at their best. It's a real simple thought—we're trying to help these guys be the best they can be, and everybody contributes to that. We thought that a new start and an upgrade in philosophy and the approach, counting tremendously more so on the performance guys who have a ton of information for us that we can include to our assessments and evaluations and care for the guys. All of that. We're off to a really good start. There's a lot of energy about it. Guys are really mixing well."
5. Carroll’s thoughts on two offseason signings.
The Seahawks have signed a few players to future contracts this offseason, including former first-round pick Paxton Lynch, who will compete for the No. 2 job behind Russell Wilson.
Asked about Lynch, who was selected in the 2016 draft with a pick the Seahawks traded to Denver, Carroll said, “He's really tall, and can throw the ball a ton, and he runs around well. He was a No. 1 pick, for obvious reasons. At this point it's obviously about potential to play. But he's got some great aspects to his background, and he's got some NFL experience. It wasn't all great, but it was still experience, and that would help him with good coaches and all that. So we are excited to have him and add him to the competition, to see what he brings.”
The Seahawks also signed former Browns defensive tackle Jamie Meder last month. On that move, Carroll said, “Just adding to the competition. At this point, everybody that comes in is going to have to battle. We've got a pretty good roster right now. So it's going to be a great challenge for guys making the team. Our history has been so tilted towards guys coming in off free agency, and we've had so many guys, so many free-agent players who have worked their ways to the front and become prominent players in the league, I like to think, because of our openness and the competitive approach to it. So he enters in, I think, in classic fashion."
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll talked with the media in Indianapolis during day two of the NFL Scouting Combine.