PHOENIX, Ariz. —NFC head coaches met with the media for an hour Wednesday morning at the NFL Annual Meetings, which meant a chance for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to provide updates on the moves his team has made in free agency, among other topics.
In addition to a few updates on some key players who are rehabbing injuries, here are six things we learned from Carroll's session with the media:
1. When it comes to the offensive line, Carroll says "I know we've gotten better."
As general manager John Schneider noted a day earlier, the Seahawks are excited about the two players they added in free agency, tackle/guard Luke Joeckel and guard Oday Aboushi.
Carroll said Joeckel, who began his career in Jacksonville at left tackle before moving to left guard last season, will start out competing at left tackle, but they could also use him at guard.
"I'm thinking of him as (a left tackle), knowing he can play left guard," Carroll said. "He had a really good experience this year moving in, and he liked it and felt comfortable doing that. So, my first thought is, we head into it with him coming into it as a left tackle that can play left guard. We'll work that out. Just leave it up to the competition out there. I know we've gotten better. He's got a good future, he's a young guy, fired up, smart dude and all of that. Excited about him coming."
Aboushi will compete for a spot at right guard, Carroll said, which also could open up the door to Germain Ifedi, last year's first-round pick, moving to right tackle.
"We are just going to work it out," Carroll said. "It gives us an opportunity with Germain also. We've talked to Germain about maybe playing right tackle. We'll see how that works out. We drafted him as a right tackle that could play right guard. We've used that flexibility already. He's excited about the chance to play outside if that's what we want him to do. We'll figure it all out when we start to put the pieces together. I really like that we've been able to improve. The two guys are really good pass protectors and something we really wanted to add and those guys definitely will help us."
And Carroll's excitement about his line is about more than just the new players they added this month. With four rookies gaining experience last year, two of them as starters, the Seahawks are expecting Ifedi, George Fant, Rees Odhiambo and Joey Hunt to come back as significantly improved players in 2017.
"George is having the off-season of his life, because it's the only one he has ever really had," Carroll said of Fant, a former college basketball standout who barely played in his one season of college football at Western Kentucky. "He is bigger and stronger and fired up. Imagine, he now knows what it's like to play football for a year, so everything looks different. His whole world looks different to him."
If Fant is good enough to beat out Joeckel for the left tackle job, that will show his growth, but Carroll also sees spending some time as a backup as something that could benefit a player as young and inexperienced as Fant.
"He may be so ready that it's obvious that Luke should play inside," Carroll said. "That may happen pretty early, I don't know that. So it will just go back to the competition… But I think it's a really good situation and if George had to sit for a while. What could be better for him than sitting behind a guy who was a (No. 2) pick in the draft and knows how to play the position? If that happens it would only enhance his future, and we have high expectations for him down the road—high expectations."
Carroll noted he is expecting Ifedi to "totally blossom" in his second season, and also sees Odhiambo as a player who could push for a starting job on the left side of the line.
"He's going to get a great opportunity to be a starter," Carroll said. "We drafted him to be a starting player, and we thought by the middle of the season through the second half of it, we could see that that potential was all there, the mentality was all there. It was just a matter of time. When he comes to camp, he should be as pumped as ever, because he's going to get a great chance to start."
Take a look back at newly-signed Seahawks offensive lineman Luke Joeckel's NFL career.
2. Jeremy Lane and other options at right cornerback.
With the status of last year's starting right cornerback DeShawn Shead in question for the start of the season, the Seahawks have multiple options to consider at that spot if Shead isn't going to make it back for Week 1. The most obvious move would be to move Jeremy Lane, who has starting experience, from the nickel role he played last year to an every-down role, but the Seahawks will consider other players there as well, Carroll said.
"The obvious move is Jeremy Lane becomes the starter," Carroll said. "He has done that in the past for us, so Jeremy has been a good, solid player for us for a number of years. And then the competition is wide open as it always is, so we'll see what happens. There will be some guys— Neiko Thorpe is a guy who impressed us; he had a very good season for us last year. He's big and strong and fast, he proved that he's an all-around football player. He did play well when he played. DeAndre Elliott did a nice job when he stepped in. So there's going to be a really good competition. Pierre Desir is a guy we are excited about, he's played in the league before. He didn't get a chance last year much, but he's done well in practice, so those guys are really going to go for it and we'll see what happens. I'll be excited to see how it turns out."
3. After seven seasons in Seattle, one of Carroll's challenges is "really continuing to motivate those guys at a championship level."
The Seahawks aren't just a more talented and successful team than they were in Carroll's first couple of seasons in Seattle, they're also a much more experienced group. Many of Seattle's core players have been around since 2011 or 2012, and in the case of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, since the 2010 season. As players mature and change both as athletes and as men, one challenge for Carroll is to make sure his message remains on point.
"Really continuing to motivate those guys at a championship level," Carroll said when asked about that challenge. "Continuing to find ways to communicate what's important and how they can improve and how they can add to their game. All the players change some every year, and how they change and how they see things differently and how they have adapted is kind of the mystery that we unfold during the offseason and heading into the season, factoring in the past season, how their expectations set them in motion for the next year, the money they're aspiring to gain through a contract, the money they have been paid that could change their outlook, relationships that change, players come and go. There's so many elements that affect them as they come back, we have to start all over again with them. So we try to take a very fresh look every chance we get to find out where they are and what's important to them and what's going on, and then see how we can redirect and focus that in collective area that's going to find their best.
"It goes back to competing and continuing to find ways to help these guys find their best… And things can change and dynamics shift and all of that, so that's why it's new every year and we have to check in with guys. We're always trying to develop our guys and bring them toward their best, and then in some of that is nudging them along the way to speak a little bit more, to step to the front of the line, to demonstrate more so who they are for the benefit of the others and that's what leadership, I think, is. One aspect of leadership that's really important and that's always ongoing and it does change each year."
4. Carroll feels better about his linebacker depth than he has in past years.
With the Seahawks adding three linebackers in free agency, Carroll is "really fired up" about that position group, which already features a pair of Pro Bowl starters in Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.
"All three guys are all-around players," Carroll said of Michael Wilhoite, Terence Garvin and Arthur Brown. "They've all been behind the line of scrimmage primarily, not outside guys although they look to be able to help us there possibly. I think it's the most experienced group of guys that we'll start a season with in terms of special teams background, so we'll still have young guys come in to complement, but I think it's really an important place for us to upgrade the overall value to our team in terms of (special) teams. It will be very competitive throughout. All those guys have something special.
The Seahawks aren't necessarily done adding linebackers, but they're now on a position where they won't feel forced to do so in the draft if things don't fall the right way.
"There are some really interesting players in the draft too so we'll be looking and see how it goes. If we're unable to draft anybody, I think we're on the verge of being OK as it is, so it's going to be a very strong group. I don't feel like I could say that over the last couple years. I feel like we've been piecemealing with young guys and free agent guys coming off the wire. We've had to work hard at that and I think this is a more experienced group coming in."
5. It was important to re-sign "big factors" DeShawn Shead and Luke Willson.
While Shead might not be available for the entire season due to the knee injury he sustained in Seattle's playoff loss in Atlanta, it was still significant to re-sign him as a free agent.
"Really important," Carroll said. "He was a captain on our team. He has been a guy that has always been a leader, was designated last year by the players. Such a great competitor and such a terrific kid that he's a big part of the fabric of our team, really glad to get him back."
On Willson, Carroll said, "Really, the same. On either side of the ball, those guys are both big factors on our team. They're big personalities. Great energy, great leadership qualities, really competitive dudes. They are just the guys we want on our team so it's great having them back.
"(Willson) is a great team member. He's really one of the highlight team members because of the attitude that he brings. He's a great worker, and he's just at the center of the spirit of our team and has been a great guy. He helps on special teams, he can catch the ball, he's really fast, he can get down the field and make big plays. He's versatile, he has become a very versatile player for us. He's a guy who all of our players want on our team, so we had to figure out a way to get that done and we were able to, so that's a plus."
6. Thoughts on Eddie Lacy and the running back group as a whole.
When the Seahawks signed former Packers running back Eddie Lacy earlier this month, Carroll made it clear that adding Lacy is a move the Seahawks hope will get them back to having a physical running game. Carroll reiterated that point on Wednesday.
"His style and what he brings," Carroll said. "It's just the way he plays the game. It fits us, it complements us. We always want to be a physical, committed, aggressive run team. Coming off of last year where we were unable to capture that, he just kind of popped at the right time. I think there was a time when we spent three months (in 2010) trying to get Marshawn Lynch in our program. And John (Schneider) had to keep calling and keep calling and keep calling, because we wanted to bring in a guy like him and see how to utilize him as we built a new program. I think he did a marvelous job of sending a message and showing how we want this game played."
But while the Seahawks are counting Lacy to be part of a physical running game, they won't ask him to do it on his own.
"I think Eddie has a chance to really accent that, as does Thomas (Rawls)," Carroll said. "Thomas has that factor as well that we've always talked about. He's physical, aggressive and tough. To have two guys like that on our team, and then the style that C.J. (Prosise) brings and Alex (Collins) brings to complement that, I think that's the kind of makeup that we're looking for. All of our guys have felt that. Coaches are excited about it, ownership, everybody is. And so we'll see how it fits."
Photos of Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll meeting with the media on Thursday, March 2 at the 2017 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana.