INDIANAPOLIS – Before Seahawks coach Pete Carroll addressed his team's future, he spent a couple of minutes during his press conference at the NFL scouting combine reflecting on a big contributor to the team's past.
"Let me say this about (Marshawn Lynch), he had a tremendous run with us and we had a tremendous run with him," Carroll said of the Pro Bowl running back, who announced his retirement earlier this month. "Extraordinary memories that were put together and games that were played and the events and the style and all that he was a huge part of all that. It was a lot of fun and we had a great time. It was great to see him have the chance, back in his days in Buffalo things were getting kind of quiet there, and he came back to life with us and brought us a lot of energy and we had lot of fun together and a lot of good stuff happened.
"His style fit into the mentality that we were trying to bring into the program and the flair that he brings also was just part of it. We fit a lot of guys together and he was part of a bunch of guys that brought a real exciting attitude, so it worked out really well.''
As for what lies ahead for the Seahawks, Carroll spent plenty of time on that topic, which brings us to five things we learned from his press conference at Lucas Oil Stadium.
1. Thomas Rawls should be ready for camp and Jimmy Graham is "ahead of schedule."
Seahawks general manager John Schneider also addressed the health of tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Thomas Rawls, two key offensive players who finished the year on injured reserve, but Carroll provided a few additional details a day later, most notably saying that Rawls should be back for training camp, and that Graham is ahead of schedule, making a late-in-training-camp return a possibility.
Rawls, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in December, is the frontrunner to take over for Lynch, but the Seahawks will bring in more backs to compete for playing time.
"Thomas is going to get a great shot at it," Carroll said. "He did everything he could his rookie season to make a statement that he belongs. We love the style, he's a great kid. I can't imagine that he's not going to be right in the middle of it. I don't know who else is going to be added to the team, but he's coming in as the guy that we're looking to him to give the ball to and he's recovering really well. I just saw him two days ago, he's in really good shape right now, he's getting ready for it. It's going to be a haul for him but he'll make it for camp and be ready to go and we'll expect a lot out of him.''
Graham, who is recovering from knee surgery, won't be rushed back, but is making good progress.
"This injury really would shoot us all the way to the end of camp and see how he is," Carroll said. "He's ahead of schedule right now, he's doing remarkably well. His attitude, his work ethic sounds to be right on point. He's flying like crazy, he's all over the place so he's doing a lot of good, active things demonstrating his mentality is really strong. We expect him back and battling but that all depends on when it really starts pushing to see how far he has been able to bring it. We will not rush him at all the early part of camp and all and just see how it goes but we have really good expectations for a great recovery.''
2. John Schneider and company have a good feel for how the draft will play out.
When it comes to the draft, part of the equation is identifying good players, but just as important is having a good understanding of where those players are likely to be selected. Maybe the Seahawks would have been safer taking Russell Wilson in the second round of the 2012 draft to make sure they landed a quarterback they really liked, but instead they believed in their draft board and landed an All-Pro middle linebacker a round before picking their franchise quarterback. The Seahawks also like Rawls enough to have a draftable grade on him, but believed they could sign him after the draft, and indeed Rawls went undrafted and signed with Seattle. That's similar to how things played out with Doug Baldwin in 2011, a player who Schneider said Seattle had given a fourth-to-fifth-round grade, but who was also available after the draft.
"That savvy it takes to figure out where guys fit and what expectations you can build around a player for his availability and all of that, that's instinct, that's background, that's good upbringing and training, it's all of that stuff that allows you to make those kind of decisions," Carroll said. "Because those are gut decisions, there's not formula for that. John and his guys, they're great at it. We really trust that those feelings through the process, this rigorous process they get through that they go through to get to draft day, really allows us to believe that we're going to make good choices. We go very boldly with the choices, as we always have in those situations, but there is a lot of it that just comes right from the gut, you've just got to feel it out. That's where the mix of the people—sometimes it's not the guy who says something, it's the guy who doesn't say something—it's all the wonderful processing it goes through that's really exciting to see our guys carry out so well."
3. Carroll remains optimistic about his team's future.
After the season ended with a playoff loss at Carolina, both Carroll and his players spoke about how excited they were for the team's future. While Super Bowl victories and losses both presented challenges that carried into the following season, Carroll sees this offseason differently, looking at it as being more similar to what followed after the 2012 season ended with a playoff loss in Atlanta. More than a month after the season ended, Carroll's optimism hasn't waned.
"In the sense of where we are and how we are heading into this offseason, this is different," he said. "This is different than the last two years. The last two years, those were extraordinary things that you go through. This event of this season is different than that. It seems more familiar to the feelings that we had coming out of the Atlanta (playoff loss) year. Our guys are very hungry to get back at it. They realize how close we were and how we were spinning some wheels at times early last year to get right, and we got right. We feel how good a football team we were once again; we were able to connect with that. And so we have that going for us. Hopefully we can build on that with a great offseason, and all of the work that we have to do to keep this thing going."
4. The Seahawks have a "terrific group" of receivers they hope to keep together.
Russell Wilson understandably got a lot of attention for the phenomenal numbers being put up in the passing game during the second half of the season, but what was also evident was just how good Seattle's receiving corps can be given the opportunity to shine. The play of Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and Jermaine Kearse bodes well for Seattle's future, though Kearse's return is not a given as he heads towards free agency.
"That's a terrific group," Carroll said. "We really like our guys, they've been productive for a long time. They fit together with our system and the quarterback and the coaching staff and we'd like to have those guys back together if we could do that. Tyler is a great addition, Doug had an incredible year, they all had their best years. Jermaine had a fine year again for us. We have just kind of grown together. There's some work to be done there, he's unrestricted. But we are always working to add, always trying to make it more competitive. We have good, young guys coming up too, Paul Richardson back is a big deal to us, too. You may forget that we haven't had him, but he will come back full strength. He is already healthy and ready to go and that's a good addition for us but of course we are always trying to add and make it more competitive.''
5. That passing game success won't change Seattle's desire to be balanced.
As well as Wilson and his receivers played down the stretch, Carroll still chafes at the idea that his team is changing its philosophy to build around Wilson, especially with Lynch retiring.
When asked about his team opening up its offense late last season, Carroll responded, "I don't agree with you that we opened up more, we just did better. We protected the quarterback better. We didn't throw the ball that much more—there are always a few games in there that call for that—but that really wasn't what happened, we just got better and everything just kind of merged together and really helped us."
And in fact, the Seahawks did for the most part continue to run the ball at a high rate even with Wilson and company putting up big numbers.
"We were able to maintain the balance," Carroll said. "We want to be a balanced football team, and that has to do with how we structure our offense as well, and it always has been dedicated to being a running football team to make that happen. The league tends to go towards the throwing game and those kind of questions always come up because everybody wants to see you throw it more. We just want to win and we want to play really well, and we're going to do whatever that takes. There are always games—the Carolina (playoff) game, we had to throw the ball the whole day. We don't like playing like that, we like to maintain the kind of balance and structure so we're dictating what's going on in the game, but if we have to, we can. We've seen that, you can go all the way back to Chicago or Atlanta years ago when we had to throw the football because the score dictate it. We're able to do that, Russell has always been able to do that, people kind of forget that. He's able to throw the ball 40 times a game and have big games and big numbers and all of that, but that's just not the way we choose to play. We'll see, we'll see how it goes. Each year there are new dynamics, and we have to see how the players fit together and how it works. We have an ideal of what we're trying to get done and what we've been successful doing, but we'll see how it goes. That depends on a lot of factors—we're not going to change drastically, there's no reason to. We think we're still a pretty good football team if we keep doing what we're doing."
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.