With the 2018 season coming to an end over the weekend, Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer made appearances on 710 ESPN Seattle Thursday morning to talk about a season in which the Seahawks went 10-6 to earn a Wild Card playoff berth.
Here are five things we learned from Norton’s interview on the Brock and Salk Show:
1. Norton’s first year back in Seattle “was a lot of fun.”
Norton spent the first 11 seasons of his coaching career working with Pete Carroll, both at USC and with the Seahawks before becoming the defensive coordinator of the Raiders in 2015. After three years in Oakland, Norton returned to Seattle as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator, and in a year that saw the defense go through a pretty big transition in terms of personnel, Norton had a great time helping a young defense develop.
“This season was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was awesome to see young players become not so young, the veterans become really good leaders, the playmakers make plays. We played competitively, we made the playoffs. The guys accomplished a lot, and I think the guys should be proud of what they accomplished.”
2. The adversity the defense faced in 2018 will make it better in the long run.
With so many young players in prominent roles on Seattle’s defense, some hiccups were inevitable, and while the players and coaches hold themselves to a high standard and wish they could have avoided those mistakes, they also know they are part of the process of improving.
“The second-year guy going into the third year, the first-year guy going into the second year,” Norton said when asked who he expects to improve most next season. “The guy seeing it for the first time, then they’re like, ‘Oh, I can play at this level.’ Then the second-year guy saying, ‘I can play at this level and get even better.’"
Norton, who won three Super Bowls as a player and one as Seattle’s linebackers coach in 2013, knows the Seahawks will be better for having been through a disappointing playoff loss in Dallas.
“In order for us to be really good, we have to taste a loss like that,” he said. “I haven’t been on any great Super Bowl teams that haven’t lost first before they’ve won. They have to taste it, they have to feel it, they have to go home and hurt, they have to watch these games, then they come back just roaring, they come back ready to go. That’s what we’re expecting.”
3. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright were once again a “very special” part of Seattle’s defense.
With the Seahawks getting noticeably younger on their defensive line and in the secondary, the leadership of linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright was more important than ever in 2018. Wagner again played at an All-Pro level, and while Wright missed much of the season with knee injuries, he still played a big role with his leadership before returning to play very well late in the season and in the playoff loss to Dallas.
“Those two are very special, they’re close to my heart,” Norton said. “Just watching them come into the league, everything from the very beginning that we started out to teach them, to watch them stay committed to the process, to watch them stay committed to their growth, to watch them really take it over going from young players to older players, it’s just really fascinating to watch those two guys grow and play together. Now they’re the best of the best. It’s unfortunate that K.J. didn’t get a chance to play throughout the season, he was on and off with his injuries, but Bobby is just the best of the best.”
Norton went on to say of Wagner, who earned first-team All-Pro honors for the fourth time in the last five seasons, “This kid has become obsessive in everything he does, and it’s obsessive in the right directions. He’s so organized and he understands, and now he has been able to develop his ability to lead and bring others with him, to make others around him better. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, is there anything you can’t do?’”
4. Frank Clark and Jarran Reed’s big seasons were the product of their commitment.
A big reason why the Seahawks defense played as well as it did in 2018 was the growth of Frank Clark and Jarran Reed, who took on bigger roles on the defensive line after three starters from the previous year moved on in the offseason. The two combined for 23.5 sacks, 13.0 from Clark and 10.5 from Reed, both totals representing career highs, while also becoming leaders of the defensive line.
“They really work well together,” Norton said. “They’re both very obsessive with being the best. They work their tails off. No one knows how hard these guys work, except for us coaches who are here with them all the time. The guys who see them play on Sunday think it just shows up on Sunday. These kids, they are pushing it 24 hours a day. If they’re not doing it while they’re awake, they’re thinking about it while they’re in bed. There’s no time of day they aren’t trying to get better, and it shows in their performances.
“They just are consumed and obsessed with the ability to grow, to work, to learn, to get better, to bring others around them to make them better, and you don’t get that all the time with athletes today, that’s kind of hard to find. You can only find that through the combine and the interviews and the time you spend with them. You want to get a guy who’s really committed to the process, really committed to getting the best out of their ability, maximizing everything he has. You would think all athletes, all players are like that, but they aren’t, and we’ve been very fortunate to have the type of culture to grow that.”
5. The defense changed a bit more from week to week than it had in the past.
With some big changes in personnel and a new defensive coordinator, the Seahawks’ defense looked a bit different at times this season from a schematic standpoint. The basic principles of a Pete Carroll defense were still there, but this season saw more dime packages (six defensive backs) than in the past, and even the occasional seven-DB “Bandit” package.
“We can match up,” Norton said. “That’s one thing I like to do, I see what they have, see what they do best, then get our best guys to match up with their best guys. You never want to get in a situation where they have a guy motion out and get on a slow linebacker or a slow defensive end or something like that. We have size and speed and the guys are smart. I think our football IQ is really growing. It can only go so far when you’re young, but I think as you grow and you talk and you teach, I think our IQ is really strong. You see the offenses grow, but our defense is growing as well.”
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