INDIANAPOLIS – The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine is underway at Lucas Oil Stadium, which means the Seahawks, like all 31 other teams, are here evaluating some of the top draft prospects in college football. On Wednesday, Seahawks general manager John Schneider met with the media to discuss his team and its plans for the offseason.
Here are five things we learned from Schneider's combine press conference.
1. The Seahawks want to keep everyone, but know they can't keep everyone.
While the combine is primarily about draft prospects, there is also plenty of talk of free agency at this event given that the new league year begins on March 9. For the Seahawks, who have 17 players who will be restricted or unrestricted free agents, that means plenty of tough decisions have to be made on who they can afford to keep and who they cannot.
When Schneider was asked about linebacker Bruce Irvin and if it was similar to a situation like last year's when cornerback Byron Maxwell left for a big contract in Philadelphia, Schneider repeated that the Seahawks want to keep free agents like Irvin and everyone else, but also understand that the salary cap makes it impossible to re-sign everyone.
"I love Bruce and I loved Byron," Schneider said. "I'm sure you get tired of me talking about it but it really, truly is a big puzzle that we have to work through. I have met with Bruce individually, and he knows how we feel about him as an organization and he knows that we are either going to be able to make it work or give him a big hug and congratulate him. That's just the way this league is right now. There's no question it's built on parity, and the more players you acquire, the more players you are going to lose at a certain point. We would love to have all of our guys back, unfortunately we are not going to be able to have all of them back. We have to set up a pecking order based on what the landscape looks like in the draft and free agency.'
That reality Schneider describes is precisely why the draft, and with it this week's combine, are such a big deal. The teams that stay on top in the NFL aren't the ones who spend big on free agency every year, they're the ones that are able to draft and develop young talent that can help them reload when the inevitable personnel losses do occur.
"I'm really excited about our young, strong core of players, and then trying to keep as many of our unrestricted players as we can and then trying to have a great draft,'' Schneider said.
2. The Seahawks love Thomas Rawls, but there will still be competition at running back.
This should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying any attention to the Seahawks under head coach Pete Carroll, but even though Thomas Rawls had an incredible rookie season, he won't simply be handed the reins at running back now that Marshawn Lynch is retiring. Obviously Rawls, who had four 100-plus yard performances last season and led the NFL in yards per carry, will have a leg up on the competition, but with Lynch retiring, Fred Jackson an unrestricted free agent, and Christine Michael a restricted free agent, you can expect to see plenty of backs in training camp competing for playing time with Rawls.
"We look at it like we're going to try to add as many guys to that position as we can… we're just going to keep bringing in as many guys as we possibly can," Schneider said. "You hear me talk about being in as many deals as we possibly can. That doesn't necessarily mean being in specific negotiations, it's just an avenue of acquisition.
"Much like every position every year we are going to be pounding hard to try to add as much competition to every group as we possibly can. Obviously running back is no different."
Asked if Rawls can be a lead back who carries the ball as often as Lynch did during his prime, Schneider said, "He definitely has the talent to do it, but we are going get a couple of people in there to compete with him, and he's recovering from a significant injury as well too. He's a fun kid and a real talented guy. I just can't tell you that right now. We'd all go to Vegas if I could tell you that.''
Which brings us to…
3. Rawls and tight end Jimmy Graham are recovering well from their injuries, but it's too soon for a specific timeline.
Schneider sounded positive about the way Jimmy Graham (knee) and Rawls (ankle) are recovering from season-ending injuries, but in both cases, he said it's too early to make any declarations on when those players will be ready to resume practice.
"Not at this point," Schneider said when asked if there was any concern about Rawls being ready for camp. "He's doing a great job, he's working his tail off. He had a great mentor in Marshawn Lynch to learn from in how the guy attacked the football field. I know he's attacking his rehab just like Marshawn would if he were in that situation."
On Graham, Schneider said, "Jimmy is doing great. He's down in Miami working with some people down there and he's doing great. He's got a great attitude about it. Obviously it was a devastating injury for us at the time but he's a great guy, got a great attitude about it and he's ready to get after it… I don't know, it's too early to tell (if Graham will be ready for the start of the season). It was a very significant injury.''
4. The growth of spread offenses makes it harder to find NFL-ready linemen.
More and more in recent years, you hear NFL coaches and executives talk about how hard it is to find enough quality offensive linemen, and at least part of the reason for that is what has happened at the lower levels of the game, all the way up to college. As more and more linemen go through the ranks playing in up-tempo, pass-heavy spread offenses, they develop some traits that help them, but others that make it hard for NFL teams like Seattle that still lean on a physical running game to find good fits coming out of college.
"Heck my sixth-grade son's team runs a spread offense," Schneider said. "They are not learning how to play football the way we did. We are going through a generational shift. And also in college football they are not allowed as much time as they used to have with guys on an individual basis, so you are seeing a lot of teams just going to a little bit of individual periods and then getting out there and going to team (drills) because they've got to win games and they are going to score a ton of points. So we have to spend a lot of time—it's not just with the offensive linemen, it's tackling, it's catching the ball, it's all the fundamentals of football that are different than what we grew up with.''
As for what the Seahawks are looking for when it comes to adding linemen and building a line, it's more than just size and athleticism. Sure the Seahawks want big, athletic linemen if they can get them, but they also want players who can function together as a unit.
"When I look at offensive lines, and the really good offensive lines that I have been around, that cohesion and being able to play together (matters) more so than the pure talent of a guy who is really quick or super flexible or rates specifically in an athletic manner. So to me it's about finding that right combination and having those guys who are smart and tough and reliable enough to work with coach (Tom) Cable and just work as a group in unison and be able to work with all of the adjustments that are coming and the blitzes and the adjustments in the running game.
"You can't just go with the most athletic, best-looking dude with the longest arms. There has to be an aspect of his mental quickness, his awareness, his ability to pick up stunts and blitzes, study his opponent, be ready to play the game, and that cohesion to be able to work with the guy next to him."
5. Schneider really likes what he saw out of Russell Wilson last season.
Watching Russell Wilson finish the season as well as he did, throwing 24 touchdowns and just one interception over the final seven games of the season, has Schneider "very excited" about their future going forward with their quarterback.
"His eyes and his feet were on fire," Schneider said. "He was just in that flow of just slowing everything down. Obviously there were times earlier in the season when we wish we'd have been able to have protected him better, but he did a great job. Being under all that pressure and everything that happened early in the season and being able to push his way through it mentally, shoot, like I said, everything we had going on in the off-season, signing a contract.''
Seahawks coaches, scouts and front office staff are out in Indianapolis to watch draft-class talent preform at Lucas Oil Stadium for the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine.