Key takeaways from Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll's end-of-year press conference held two days after Seattle's Divisional Round playoff loss to the Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
1. Injuries Impacted Seattle's Consistency
As he noted earlier Monday during his end-of-year segment on 710 ESPN Seattle, Carroll affirmed that injuries to prominent players played a large role in the lack of consistency the Seahawks saw this season, agreeing with a reporter that the setbacks — particularly the ankle, knee, and pectoral injuries to quarterback Russell Wilson and leg injury to running back Thomas Rawls — were some of the biggest factors that led to the team not finding the steady play it desired.
"Yeah, they were," Carroll said. "Just start with the QB and Thomas [Rawls], I just think those two are so obvious."
Heading into the season the Seahawks hoped to have a healthy Wilson under center, with a healthy Rawls, who was coming off a season-ending leg injury his rookie year, behind him in the backfield. But both players suffered early-season setbacks, with Rawls going out of the lineup for seven games as a result. Wilson continued to play through his issues, but didn't get back to near full health until late in the season.
"You watched your quarterback not be the guy that he can be for a long time and it was hard on him," Carroll said of Wilson. "We had to adapt to that, find out what he was able to do and what he could do, and we did. As soon as he got back he helped us and we did better. He helped his linemen just like he helped the running game. Russell's a dynamic football player that has tremendous impact on the game and the guys that play around him and I just think it's about as clear as it can get."
On Rawls, Carroll added: "Thomas was banged up the whole time. It was hard for him to overcome it and get through it. We saw what he's like when he's right and we were counting on Thomas being at that point when he returned and unfortunately he broke his leg in the Rams game differently than the other injury. So my hat's off to Thomas. How much more difficult can it be for a guy trying to get back and help his team? He finally gets back after all of the rigors of returning and then he gets hurt again, and here he goes again he's right back in it again. So that's why it took him a while to get back and when we did see him you saw the player that we love, and we missed him during the year."
Of course, Wilson and Rawls weren't the only Seahawks impacted by the injury bug this season. Seattle also saw key players like receiver Tyler Lockett, running back C.J. Prosise, defensive end Michael Bennett, safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor all miss significant time. Cornerback Richard Sherman never missed a game, but he too was playing through a "significant" knee injury, Carroll said Monday.
"That's just part of it," Carroll said. "That's what happens during the season. That's why some teams are able to keep rolling."
2. Updates on DeShawn Shead, Tyler Lockett & Earl Thomas
Carroll confirmed that cornerback DeShawn Shead suffered a "significant ACL injury" in this past Saturday's Divisional Round playoff loss which could impact his availability heading into next year. Lockett and Thomas, meanwhile, "should make it" back in time for next season.
"That's a significant injury," Carroll said of the damage to Shead's knee. "For a guy out there on the edge, to have your legs, you've got to have them. It's going to be all the way until next season before he really gets to start seeing how far along he is and if he can come back, so we have to think like we've got to pull from the ranks of the guys and see how they do."
Asked if Lockett and Thomas — each of whom suffered season-ending leg injuries — will be available for the start of next season, Carroll added: "They should make it. The docs say that they're going to make it. It's going to take a few months here in the offseason. Tyler has really jumped in the early stages of returning. Both those guys are phenomenal athletes and great competitive guys about doing stuff. They have to do their work, of course. It's a little different, once the bone is healed then they're in pretty good shape, so it's not like ligaments and all the rest of the stuff that have to be reestablished. They have a really good chance of returning, yes."
Other than the injuries to Shead, Lockett, and Thomas, Carroll said the Seahawks enter the offseason in "pretty good shape," confirming that Sherman's MCL injury will not require surgery.
"There's nothing really significant that we don't already know about," Carroll said of injuries that may linger into the offseason. "All of the veteran guys that have been with us really came out in pretty darn good shape. Michael [Bennett] and Kam [Chancellor] and Bobby [Wagner] and K.J. [Wright] and Sherm's coming back, Russell [Wilson] will be. All those guys they came out pretty well. They're very fortunate. [Justin] Britt, all those guys.
"So we're going into the offseason in pretty good shape. We've got to get No-E [Tyler Lockett] and DeShawn and Earl back for sure, but some of the young guys they're ready to go already. They've been through their rehab, so they're going. So we're in pretty good shape going into the offseason."
3. Positions That Will See The Most Competition Going Forward
With the ACL injury to Shead, Carroll noted Seattle will have to "pull from the ranks" to fill the starting cornerback job opposite Sherman should Shead not be ready in time for the start of next season.
"I thought DeAndre Elliott did a nice job in the bits that he played, Neiko [Thorpe] did some nice stuff for us, too," Carroll said of Seattle's defensive backs behind Shead and Sherman. "There's a couple other guys there on the roster that have looked good and competitive, but we're going to have to do a really good job of coaching in the case that DeShawn doesn't make it back ready to go. I thought he had a very, very good year, was challenged a ton. The other side of Sherm can wear anybody out and he hung in there tough throughout the season, made a considerable amount of plays and all that. He's a terrific team guy.
"If he's not available we're going to really miss him, but we've got to go for it with the other guys. There will be a chance to address that in the draft, too, they'll be plenty of chances, but right now we're excited about some of the guys coming up."
In part because of the injury to Shead, as well as Thomas' ongoing rehab, Carroll called the secondary an area where he anticipates to see the most competition going into next season, also acknowledging linebacker depth, as well as the offensive line.
"I think the secondary looks like that right now," Carroll said. "We've got to get Earl back, we've got to get the corner thing squared away. I think that's one of them. We'll certainly be looking at that in the draft, that'll be one of the areas.
"We need some youth at the linebacker spot. Bobby and K.J. played thousands of plays this year between the two of them and were extremely successful, but we need to address that. We didn't get anybody that really made a difference in the last couple years that can really fight to take those guys' job. Think if somebody can battle K.J. or Bobby for their starting time, well that's what we need to draft towards. We'll be looking there.
"The offensive line will continue to be an area of focus, it will be. We're looking at everything, but I'm trying to give you guys something so you can walk out of here with it. That's probably the obvious focal points."
4. Assessing The 2016 Draft Class
Seattle went into the season with high hopes for its 2016 draft class, and while the team did get significant playing time out of offensive lineman Germain Ifedi, defensive lineman Jarran Reed, and undrafted rookie offensive lineman George Fant, as well as key snaps out of running back Alex Collins, receiver Tanner McEvoy, and offensive lineman Rees Odhiambo, Carroll hoped to see more from oft-injured players like Prosise and defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson, as well as tight end Nick Vannett.
"Yeah, we had hoped more for Quinton Jefferson," Carroll said. "We thought he could be a factor and he looked really good when we got started and [he got] banged up and we didn't get much out of him play-wise. C.J. for certain, it was obvious. I think Nick Vannett's going to be a big factor, we had a real nice three-man rotation in there that was hard for Nick to break in, but he's going to be battling, he'll be way into the competition even more so, I think he can be a big factor.
"Ifedi and Jarran, those guys did terrific for their first years. So it's a pretty darn good group and we'll see if we can add that many good guys again that can affect the roster. Hopefully we'll keep them healthy and they'll be able to contribute throughout. But I think that's kind of what you're looking for in a draft class — guys that can pull out those kinds of contributions and all."
The jump from year one in the NFL to year two can be one of the most significant times for a young player in terms of development, and Carroll believes that's exactly what the Seahawks will see from this year's crop of first-year pros heading into next season.
"There was a number of those guys that weren't able to contribute because of the injuries," Carroll added. "I think all have a role and an opportunity. You didn't see much from Kenny Lawler. Kenny Lawler was a really good impacting player on the practice squad this year. He's part of that class as well. It's a really good group of guys.
"I think they're going to have a chance to be a big factor and knowing the natural growth from year one to year two, it should really help us."
5. Free Agency On The Horizon
The end of a season also means the end of contracts for some players, and while the team has several of its core members locked up for the immediate future, there are some, such as kicker Steven Hauschka and tight end Luke Willson, who are slated to head into unrestricted free agency come the early part of March. Carroll was asked about both players on Monday.
"I was really excited that he finished the season on a good note and he hit everything that he had a chance to hit, because he knew he was up against it, he knew he needed to show that," Carroll said of Hauschka, who had trouble converting extra points at times this year. "I wish it would have happened a few weeks earlier, just so he could have had more weeks to bank on that. Hauschka is a really good kicker that got in a little bit of a rut with the extra points. He's come through for us a lot of times and been a big play guy for us, so I outwardly commended him about showing that he's back and he's on it by the way he finished, and I thought that was pretty good."
On Willson, a 2013 fifth-round pick by the Seahawks who on Sunday said he hopes to be back in Seattle next season, Carroll added: "We love what Luke contributes to this team. He's been a very, very good Seahawk. He's been awesome to coach and to be part of it. That's one of those deals where we'd love to have him back. We did pursue that earlier and tried to get something done and weren't able to, so he knows that we want him and we'd like to have him on our team."
Following their 36-20 season-ending loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, the Seahawks cleaned out their lockers at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.