Three months ago, Pete Carroll and every other NFL coach sat at tables in a conference room at the Orlando Ritz-Carlton hotel. Over the course of an hour-long breakfast with the media during the annual league meetings, the Seahawks coach was asked, on multiple occasions, if his team might be facing something of a leadership void in 2018 thanks to the departure of so many key veterans.
"I have no problem with the leadership aspect of our team at all," Carroll said in late March, pointing to the likes of Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Duane Brown. "We're in terrific shape."
This week, as the Seahawks wrapped up their offseason workout program with a three-day minicamp, and throughout offseason workouts, Seattle's veterans backed up those words. Whether it was Wagner barking out encouragement—and sometimes criticism—to young defensive players, or Wilson helping lead an offense transitioning to a new coordinator, or Baldwin staying on top of a young group of receivers, or Wright helping mentor Shaquem Griffin, a rookie playing the same weakside linebacker position, or Brown and Justin Britt working to help a young line come together, strong leadership on both sides of the ball was prevalent throughout Seattle's offseason workouts.
Yes, Richard Sherman and Michel Bennett, two of the strongest voices in the locker room in the past, are gone, as is Cliff Avril, another respected leader. And Kam Chancellor, long one of the most respected players on the team and an on-field tone-setter with his physical play, still faces an uncertain future due to the neck injury that ended his 2017 season. Yet even with those players not on the field this spring, there have been plenty of veterans willing to step up and lead. Additionally, Carroll has seen some younger players start to emerge as leaders with other veterans moving from their position groups.
"They haven't skipped a beat at all," Carroll said of players like Wilson, Baldwin, Wright, Wagner and Brown. "Those guys have been the voices, they've been the leaders, they've been part of this leadership group for years, so nothing changed other than maybe they're just more apparent and their strengths are more apparent. You guys listened to K.J. yesterday, what more could you ask from a guy than his mentality and his approach to the game and how he's trying to work to get better, and all that he stands for. That's just so valuable to a team, and he's one of a number of guys who really are giving us something special. Plus we're seeing the emergence too of Jarran Reed, he's coming alive and he's going to be a factor, you can see it. Bradley McDougald as well, he's a remarkable kid. So leadership is not an issue, not one bit."
When Carroll points to Wright, he in particular was referencing the way the veteran linebacker has taken Shaquem Griffin under his wing. Wright, a starter since his rookie year in 2011, is heading into the final year of the four-year contract extension he signed late in the 2014 season. He is a very valuable part of Seattle's defense, and he'd love to stick around beyond 2018, but Wright is also smart enough to understand the business side of the game, which means he knows his future beyond this year is something of an unknown. Add to that the fact that the Seahawks selected Griffin in the fifth-round of this year's draft and have him working at the same position as Wright, and the veteran could potentially see the rookie as something of a threat. Instead, Wright has gone out of his way to help bring Griffin along, even if Griffin could someday be his replacement.
Asked if it was at all awkward to mentor a rookie playing his position, Wright quickly answered, "Not at all. It's my job to give everything that I have in me. … I'm going to share everything that I got. It's the circle of life because if no one taught me, I wouldn't be in the position that I am. It's not a competition where I'm not going to share anything, because I'll be fine. Even if something were to happen, my career would still be OK."
Wright added of working with Griffin, "I love it, man. He's a rookie. He sits right beside me in the meeting room and he wants to learn. He's very excited to get going. I was going over film (with him) this morning, just watching technique, how you should play, 'Don't line up right here, line up right here, even though the coach say so, just trust me on this.' So it'll be good. It's fun working with him."
The Seahawks will look a bit different in 2018, and yes, some of the dominant voices of locker rooms past have moved on, but as this offseason showed Carroll, "the leadership's in great shape."
Photos from the third and final practice of the Seattle Seahawks' mandatory minicamp on Thursday, June 14 at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.