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“It Feels Like Something Really Special Is Going To Happen”
On the culture, the caring and the competitiveness that the Seahawks believe will make them contenders in 2023.
By John Boyle Sep 08, 2023

Pete Carroll has been talking to his team for nearly an hour, but he isn't quite ready to bring this meeting to an end.

It's July 26, the first day of training camp and a mix of new and returning players, along with coaches and staff, fill the auditorium at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center for the first team meeting of camp. And Carroll, kicking off his 14th season as the head coach of the Seahawks, can't bring himself to wrap this up because he's "more jacked up now than I've ever been, and it's because of you. I'm fired up about our locker room, the makeup of our team.

"It's all happening right now."

Finally, after hammering home the importance of his "it's all about the ball" philosophy, after going over the team's three rules, and after challenging players to understand their purpose, Carroll delivers a parting message that might best sum up the type of football program he wants the Seahawks to be each and every season.

"If we're not having fun," Carroll tells his team, "We're (expletive) it up."

The Seahawks will kick off the 2023 season when they host the Rams on Sunday, a campaign that features high expectations both internally and externally following what was a surprising return to the playoffs last year—surprising, that is, to people outside of the organization; the belief was always there for Carroll and his players.

Some of the reasons for optimism are obvious—there's the offense, led by quarterback Geno Smith, coming off Pro-Bowl and Comeback Player of the Year honors, and featuring tons of firepower at receiver, running back and tight end; there's an offensive line that's well ahead of where it was last year; there's a defense that added significant talent this offseason, including the signings of Bobby Wagner, Dre'Mont Jones, Jarran Reed and Julian Love; there's a special teams unit that has been one of the league's best year-after-year; and there's another big rookie class featuring multiple first- and second-round picks looking to emulate the success of last year's rookies, a 2022 draft class that should only get better this season.

"I really like our team, I really like our guys, I like the mix of stages of careers, the young guys and then the guys that have been here over the years, guys who have been around," Carroll said after a recent practice. "The leadership is really solid and consistent—symbolic leaders in Geno and Bobby and DK (Metcalf) and Tyler (Lockett), those guys are all the right kind of guys to have in those positions, that's always good. The difference in our offensive line from last year to this year is enormous. I know we have a very upbeat, very positive outlook towards what's going to happen here. We've got a lot of work to do, and we've got to get right, but we've got what we need to have a really good season."

But beyond the talent on the roster and the leadership provided by Carroll and the coaching staff, there are other, sometimes more subtle factors that have this year's team excited about its chances to do something special, namely, the close bond this particular group has formed since coming together this offseason, and the highly competitive nature of this year's camp, which even in Carroll's "Always Compete" world has stood out throughout the summer. With Seahawks Legends like Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril all visiting during various points of camp, it perhaps doesn't come as a surprise that those two traits of this year's team—the feistiness in practice and the closeness of the team—are drawing comparisons to some of the best teams of the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era that also relied on those characteristics in addition to their considerable talent.

"That's a different level of depth of caring you can have for guys."

When this year's rookie class first arrived in Seattle in May, their introduction to the franchise included, in addition to the usual welcome-to-the-club activities, a special message from a Seahawks Legend.

Standing in front of the 2022 draft class, Doug Baldwin, who was introduced by Carroll as "one of the great competitors I've ever been around" and a player Carroll once described as being "(expletive) tormented to be great," gave a heartfelt speech to the rookies about what made the best Seahawks teams of his era special.

Of course, Baldwin recognized, the teams that went to back-to-back Super Bowls, winning one in dominant fashion, were loaded with talent, and yes, they featured fierce competitors. But there was more to it than that, Baldwin explained to the rookies.

"We cared about each other, we gave a (expletive) about the person next to us," Baldwin said, explaining that, for his position group, that could mean blocking so Marshawn Lynch could break off a long run, or it could be running the right route not so they could catch a pass, but so another receiver could get open.

"That little bit is what separates good teams from great teams," Baldwin said. "When you have that mentality, can't nobody (expletive) with you. That shit is special.

"There's a standard here. Pete gave us the leeway to set it. Now you have to set it."

Carroll, after showing Baldwin's message to the rookie class to the entire team in that first team meeting, told his team, "That's a different level of depth of caring you can have for guys."

So do the 2023 Seahawks have that same, um, stuff that made teams from last decade so special? The answer will reveal itself over the course of the next 18-plus weeks, but Carroll and the players who have been around for a while are getting a good vibe from this team heading into the season.

"Their willingness to be part of something bigger than themselves is really obvious, and that's why it's been so much fun," Carroll said. "It feels so much like a team is being born here. It feels like something really special is going to happen. That positive sense that everybody has, but yet there's that feeling that everybody is in on it. It's really exciting.

"I can tell by the makeup of this team and their willingness—their willingness to go wherever we take them is what I'm excited about. That's the process that's happening while we speak, so it's exciting to watch it come together. I don't have anything but positive thoughts about where we're going. I think we have a chance to do a lot of great things. We'll see if we're able to put it together, if good fortunes follow us and all that. We'll know more down the road."

Smith, who is heading into his second season as Seattle's starting quarterback and his fifth with the team, had a similar answer to his head coach when asked about the trait that most stands out with this year's version of the Seahawks.

"The brotherhood," he said. "I think there's a uniqueness in how close we are. When you think about all the guys we have, everyone's got a different story, but everyone respects the next guy's story and what it took for him to get here, and that makes us all want to play for one another. We want to do well for the guy next to us, because we know how much it means to him. So I think that uniqueness is something I'm really impressed by."

In a sport where the willingness to give every bit of effort down the stretch can be the difference between winning and losing, those bonds formed off the field leading up to the season can make all the difference once the games are underway.

"That's everything for a team," Smith said. "That's where we are with our leadership, just everyone buying in and trusting the process, knowing that you can be a great player who is starting, or you can be a backup, but and either way, you can't help the team. Whatever it takes to win is how we're looking at it."

Said Quandre Diggs, who joined the team in a 2019 trade, "It's been a while since I felt this type of way about a team, the togetherness—offense, defense, special teams, we know who we are. At the end of the day, I think we've had an opportunity to connect, and I think that's what's been fun. Training camp has been fun, it's been physical, we've had some days where it's been real emotional out there. We're really getting after each other. I think it's been cool, and I'm excited about it.

"We just got close last year from the fact that everybody put us down and doubted us, and it was up to us to go out there and show people that we're good players, we can do it. Then you just add on the additions, they came in and just mesh well with us."

"We're going to have the most competitive camp we've ever had."

After Baldwin finished telling rookies about the closeness of the teams he played on, he moved onto another defining trait of Seattle's best teams, which was the extreme competitiveness that sometimes caused things to get heated in practice.

To an outsider watching practice, Baldwin explained, it might look like "those guys don't like each other." The reality, however, was that those chippy practices were players challenging each other to be better.

"You saw that competitive spirit every day," Baldwin said.

When the Seahawks were at their peak, Baldwin said, the intensity of practice made gamedays almost feel easy. The two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII were two of the best weeks of practice Baldwin could recall in his career, and the result was a 43-8 victory over the team featuring the highest-scoring offense in NFL history.

"When we lined up to play the Broncos, there was no question we were winning that game."

Then, as if to prove that the competitive spirit hasn't left him in retirement, Baldwin looked at cornerback Devon Witherspoon, the No. 5 overall pick in the year's draft, and said, "I've got a lot of respect for you, we're from the same hometown, but if we line up, right now, I am whupping your ass."

Carroll, meanwhile, told his team in that first meeting of camp, "We're going to have a hell of a camp. We're going to have the most competitive camp we've ever had. That's what I'm shooting for."

While it will be hard for anyone to ever match the level of trash talk exchanged by Baldwin and Sherman who are both close friends and fierce competitors dating back to their days at Stanford, players on this year's roster did their best to uphold that standard in camp.

"I felt that competitiveness from the day that we went to our first meeting, just hearing Coach Carroll talk about it, and having guys like Doug Baldwin talk to the team, how chippy and competitive he is," Smith said. "Having Richard Sherman, Miachel Bennett, Cliff Avril, all those guys from the Legion of Boom days out here, that is where this culture started. You look at guys around here and they're like, 'We want to do better than that.' So they're just trying to learn from the past and kind of reinvent it."

Said Wagner, "It's been a great camp. All across the board, you have guys that want to prove things, whether that's older guys that want to prove they've still got it, or younger guys that want to prove that they belong here. It's been a very competitive camp."

Comparisons to the best teams in franchise history might be premature considering this team has yet to play a meaningful game, but there are enough similarities, from the competitiveness in practice to the closeness of the team to the emerging young talent, that it's hard not to feel like something special is brewing with this team.

"It's that chance again," Carroll said in the team meeting. "We can't miss it."

Check out some of the best photos taken of the Seahawks during training camp.

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