INDIANAPOLIS—With a proven scheme and some of the best defensive players of their generation, the Seahawks were able to field one of the NFL's best defenses year after year, often times not having to make many significant adjustments along the way.
But Seahawks coach Pete Carroll also is able to recognize that sometimes change is needed to keep up with what the rest of the NFL is doing, and as a result the Seahawks made a few big changes to their defensive coaching staff as they look to get better on that side of the ball, promoting Clint Hurtt to defensive coordinator while also adding former Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai as associate head coach-defense and Karl Scott as the team's defensive passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach.
"We've been a little bit arrogant over the years, the way we play defense, because we've been able to just go ahead and play what we want to play," Carroll said. "It's not that time right now. It's time to keep moving and keep growing. We've played the running game so well—3.8 (yards) per carry for the season, that's pretty darn good in this league. Maybe that's not the only thing we need to do well. We can do some other things too."
Carroll expanded on that thought later, noting, "Remember how people just talk about, 'God, all they do is play 3-deep, they don't play anything else, they must be stupid.' We were killing it for years. The fact that our coordinators went all over the league, on both sides of the ball, the offensive guy and defensive guys, it got harder. It was hard on us. So we stayed with it, but as I've been pecking away at it for, really like four years now, with stuff we've done subtly and we made a bigger shift last year than we had, to just continue to adjust. We just needed to make it a legitimate shift."
As Carroll noted, there have been more changes in recent years, from more 2-high safety looks to the use of 5-man defensive fronts last season, but by promoting Hurtt, who has a lot of background in 3-4 defenses, including time under longtime defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and by adding two coaches in Desai and Scott with whom Carroll has no coaching background, Carroll has made it clear that he is ready to take on even more changes on the defensive side of the ball going forward.
"I'm always, always trying and to keep moving—and sometimes staying the same is moving, because people can't believe you can do it, or you know, you just get better and you can improve," Carroll said. "But it's always about finding our ways to help us be more effective. And so this is a little bit bigger jump this time, but it's not different for me to do this. To me, it seems the same, because I'm always freaking about. I may be more that way than anybody on our staff. And it has nothing to do with how old you are. It just has to do with competing, and you're either competing or you're not, like I tell you guys all the time, and that's how I do it, by adapting and growing and pushing. You've got to push the coaches, and I push them as far as I can. And sometimes you've got to change, and that's what happened."
While the promotion of Hurtt and addition of Desai points to more 3-4 looks—and Hurtt said there will indeed be more of that—and perhaps other elements of the Fangio system, Carroll isn't looking for the 2022 Seahawks to be a copy of either Fangio's defense or Carroll's best ones from last decade. He's hoping the combination of him, Hurtt, Desai and Scott can create a defense that can do a lot of different things well that make life harder on quarterbacks and opposing offenses.
"We feel like we need to do everything," he said. "We need to use our single-high stuff and our two-high stuff to mix that and do a really nice job of that. Sean and Karl both bring a wide breadth of experience to help us with our looks and disguises, and to make it as intricate as we can, as difficult as we can on the quarterback.
"We're going to do our own stuff. We're not doing what somebody else is doing. We're going to do our stuff. As a matter of fact, the day before yesterday, I'm sitting with Karl and Sean and what I'm saying to them was, 'As we continue to work at what we know and what we understand, we're working to find the very best that you guys have ever dreamed it could be, and then find a way to meld this thing together. I don't care about being like some other coach or some other style or some other system or whatever, that has nothing to do with what we're doing.' I want to draw out the best they have to offer."
And whatever changes end up taking place on defense, Carroll hopes one of the main results is an improved ability to get pressure on the quarterback. Echoing Hurtt's words from last month, Carroll said the defense will be more aggressive in 2022.
"We've got to rush the passer better, we need more pressure," Carroll said. "We need the pressure on the passer. We did a really nice job defending against the explosive pass and numbers are good there, and that's the discipline that it takes on the back end, but there's not enough things happening to the passer. So we've allowed them to be too efficient, safely efficient, kind of just been dumping the ball and stuff. We need to be more aggressive. Soo Clint is bringing an aggressive step forward in how we transition right now and really looking forward to him standing up for that."
As for the new and promoted defensive coaches, here's what Carroll had to say about Hurtt, Desai and Scott:
"We made a really significant move in giving Clint Hurtt this opportunity to be the defensive coordinator. He has been a big factor on our staff since he's been with us. He has been a guy I've leaned on all the time—made him assistant head coach to help me with all of the challenging team decisions that we make, that do affect the defensive side of the ball, but both sides of the football. He's a great thinker, he's tough, he's creative. He's got a really good background, deep background in an area. The reason that I liked hiring him when we did was because of the people that he had worked with and worked under. It gave him a really diverse approach of the game, and he learns real well. So the scheme that we adjust, the things that we do and the adaptations that we make will fit with Clint's background and really keep him strong. He'll do a marvelous job for us.
"What you saw us do also is hire Sean Desai, where they have common background as well. They've been together, and Clint was a big part of that hiring, and also a big part of attracting Sean to us. He was very, very sought after by a number of clubs. He had all kinds of interviews, he was all over the place, and we were fortunate to get him. We put him in a position where he has a good deal of influence scheme-wise, tactically, and in all ways. So I really like that combination. I think he is a featured backend guy, a coverage-oriented guy, linebackers and safeties and all that, so those two guys together will give us a great one-two punch.
"Also, really, we just recruited and competed, and we're very fortunate to get Karl Scott to come. Karl was just as hot as you can get with coaches putting together new staffs. They did everything they could to keep him there in Minnesota. His background is maybe not as revealing as who he is, and how he approaches this game, and what he brings. The connection between scheme with his background and Sean's, is very significant, and was really important in the decision. Then we just had to compete and get it done, and Clint did a great job to close that. So, there's going to be a strong influence on our side of the ball on defense that will take us to some places that I've been really hoping to get to. We've been making our moves suddenly, but now we can make it more significantly. I think our players are going to really like it. Meetings so far have been great. The creativity and the challenge of it all, I've just been thrilled with being in it. So all that's going well."
Check out photos from the 2022 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana on Wednesday, March 2.