PHOENIX, Ariz. — Recounting his free agency meeting with Seattle, safety Bradley McDougald said last week that the Seahawks, “made it clear that talent gets on the field.”
McDougald's résumé, which includes two years as a starter and 91 tackles last season, suggests that he could be more than just a backup to two of the league's best safeties, and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll made it clear Wednesday that they indeed see McDougald as someone who can help them on defense even when their two Pro Bowl safeties, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, are on the field.
"He's a good football player," Carroll said at the NFL Annual Meetings. "Played really aggressive and tough, was excited about coming here to help us out. Shoot, I think he's a great guy to add. He has the kind of mentality in guys we are looking for. Has a chip on his shoulder, wants to prove it, he has always had to do that—make his own way. So he's coming in here to battle with us. It's a great addition.
"He has been good enough in the past to move guys around on their own team. There's a chance we can be creative with some stuff and we'll look forward to figuring that out."
So what does "getting creative" mean when it comes to McDougald? It won't mean a switch to cornerback, but it could mean some three-safety looks on defense, something the Seahawks haven't done much of in the past. Traditionally, the Seahawks—and most teams for that matter—bring on a third cornerback to replace a linebacker when they play nickel defense, but as much nickel as teams play these days, there are situations where going with an extra safety, especially one as talented as McDougald, might make sense.
"There are ways for us to play a bigger nickel group, and we're wide open to that flexibility and with Earl and with Kam," Carroll said. "We played over 800 snaps of nickel last year, the most we've ever played by far, and there's different opportunities in early-down situations to vary your groups, which we've done sometimes in the past already. We're open to the competition of it and what the players bring. If they can bring something, hopefully we'll identify it and we'll figure out how to tweak things so we can do that. There's a lot of opportunity for us. We moved (former safety) Dewey McDonald, we got him to see if he could swing into the linebacker position, and that's where he has settled for us, knowing he can play safety. There's an opportunity for us to continue to look for kind of a hybrid guy who can do both, so we'll continue to do that."
But while finding ways to get talented players on the field makes plenty of sense, it does bring up the question of how much change does Carroll want to make to a defensive formula that has worked so well over the years. While some teams, the New England Patriots in particular, are known for changing their defense based on opponents' strengths, the Seahawks have taken pride in playing their brand of defense and doing it very well. The Seahawks have developed into one of the league's best defenses, one that led the NFL in scoring defense for four straight seasons, without changing too much up in terms of scheme, so how much tweaking is the right amount?
"To me that has always been the most challenging part of coaching—how much is too much?" Carroll said. "I've been through so many things and so many adjustments and schemes and principles and stuff like that. It's fighting the over-coaching part of it, so we've become very, very grounded in our foundation of base defense and those principles to let the players play, then we try to tweak very carefully to always maintain the speed that we play at, the confidence that guys play our scheme at."
Carroll isn't saying that's the only way to do things—the Patriots just won a fifth Super Bowl title under Bill Belichick, who does things quite differently on defense than Carroll—but it is what has worked well for him for a long time.
"Some other coaches coach totally different," Carroll said. "Bill's on the other end of the spectrum. We've come back to our style and we've found the extraordinary consistency that we've had for five, six years now. It's really grounded in the players being able to play at a really high level really fast and playing base defense and base principles better than other teams can play them. We have found really a lot of success there. So the tweaks that are coming—there's some tweaks coming this time around again—they have to be subtle and really complement the philosophy and all that."
Take a look back at safety Bradley McDougald's first five years in the NFL.