Players don't put on their pads this time of year, and contact is prohibited, so what takes place on the field during organized team activities is hardly real football, hence defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt jokingly referring to this stretch of offseason workouts as the "underwear Olympics."
But while competitions for starting jobs or battles for roster spots won't be decided until training camp at the earliest, there is still plenty to learn observing players taking part in offseason workouts, particularly when it comes to learning a new defense, and so far there has been a lot to like in the eyes of Hurtt, who was promoted to the role of defensive coordinator earlier this offseason.
Most important this time of year, Hurtt said, is the communication he's seeing take place on the field and in the meeting rooms, communication that will allow the Seahawks do deploy multiple looks on defense.
For years, the Seahawks were able to, as Pete Carroll put it earlier this offseason, "just go ahead and play what we want to play" while fielding dominant defense, including teams that led the NFL in scoring defense for four straight seasons from 2012-2015. But as Carroll's assistants spread around the league taking Seattle's Cover-3 scheme with them, offenses began to adjust, and as Carroll said after the team promoted Hurtt and added associate head coach-defense Sean Desai and defensive passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach Karl Scott, now is the time for the Seahawks "to make a legitimate shift" on defense.
That shift will include more 3-4 looks and more variety in coverage, changes that should help the defense improve, but only if everyone is able to get on the same page, hence the importance of these "underwear Olympics" workouts.
"The biggest thing right now is there's a lot of communication, in and out of different calls and things of that nature, so you have multiplicity," Hurtt said. "You guys have heard me talk about that a lot. With multiplicity and guys being on the same page, the communication at all three levels of the defense is crucial. If not, bad things can happen, so guys got to constantly talk. They've got to be on the same page. It takes more than just when you're in the building of talking the schematics and the communication levels of it, it even has to happen when guys are away from here. If you think it's just going to happen in the four or six hours you're in the building, you're sadly mistaken. Like I said, they've grabbed that, that part we're farther along. I was curious to see how they were going to handle stuff and guys have really been hungry and attacked it schematically what we're doing."
In addition to communication, another big topic this offseason is accountability. It's not as if the Seahawks didn't strive to hold themselves accountable in past years, on defense or in any other phase of the game, but after a couple of years of inconsistent play on defense, and with Hurtt, who takes pride in telling it like it is without sugarcoating things, accountability seems to be a point of emphasis heading into the 2022 season.
"They have to feel that standard," Hurtt said. "And obviously as you teach the accountability part, you're teaching the entire system to everybody on the defense on all three levels so guys know who is supposed to be where, who's responsible for things, who has a tough down based on the call, so there's a lot of teaching involved with that when we have the accountability part that gets factored in."
Said third-year edge rusher Darrell Taylor, who had Hurtt as a position coach during his first two seasons, "His assertiveness as a coach and how he is as a person just rolls over into his coaching. And I think every day, he's making us better. He's holding us accountable. He's asking us to do things, asking us to get out of our comfort zone and make us better players. I think his coaching style is great for our defense and it's going to make us better as we head into the season… He's just on us even more just to make sure that we're on top of everything, holding us accountable. As far as that goes, players hold each other accountable, and coaches will do same thing. It goes hand-in-hand."
Another key part of offseason workouts is the development of young players and of rookies in particular, and so far, Hurtt likes what he has seen from this year's draft class.
"The way our guys have taken it has been really exciting," he said. "They've really risen to the challenge, especially getting out with the veteran groups and really trying to go show what they have and what they can help bring to our defense. Cause these guys are going to be a big part of it. That part has been really exciting to see with Coby (Bryant), and Tyreke (Smith), and (Boye) Mafe, really all of them, they've done really, really well. You'll see them continue to progress forward, but their competitive nature, their work ethic, their attention to detail, how they are in meetings, they're carrying themselves, not like the typical rookies where you see the immaturity and things like that. That has not been them. They've been really, really, really good so far."