PHOENIX—NFL head coaches met with the media Tuesday morning at the NFL Annual Meetings, and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll spent nearly an hour with reporters covering everything from free agency to injuries to young players he thinks can step up and take on bigger roles in 2019.
In addition to some injury updates, which you can read about here, here are 10 things we learned from Carroll’s session with the media:
1. Re-signing K.J. Wright was “a big deal” and could allow the Seahawks to have their best group of linebackers yet.
The Seahawks re-signed linebacker K.J. Wright earlier this month, a move Carroll described as being “a big deal to us.”
“We were really concerned about losing him because of all the positive things he brings to us,” Carroll said. “He's a terrific leader. He and Bobby are such great complements. He played really well at the end of the year when he got back and got healthy and all. It's really encouraging for everybody that he’s going to play good again. He really wanted to be with us. Everything about it is positive. The whole team has responded. We've heard from all kinds of guys, just thrilled that he's back."
With Wright and Mychal Kendricks both re-signing, Carroll is excited about what the Seahawks can do at linebacker. Last season Kendricks played at weakside linebacker in place of an injured Wright, then was on injured reserve late in the year when Wright got healthy, so the Seahawks never had a chance to use both players. But with both Kendricks and Wright having the versatility to play different linebacker positions during their careers, Carroll said the plan is to play both at the same time along with middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
“I’m really looking forward to the combination of the three guys playing together. I don't think we've ever been better. When that all comes together—we've got all kinds of ideas and things we want to do with those guys to use their strengths. Mychal Kendricks did a nice job when he played for us last year. Very aggressive, showed how instinctive he was, really fast, loves the game, smart about the game. To go from those guys to the young guys trying to learn the game it's a different world for us. The expectations are really high, and those guys are going to be really good… That flexibility is going to give an added dimension to us, we'll be able to move those guys around. The plan is absolutely to play them at the same time.”
Carroll went on to say that group “is one of the aspects of our team I'm most excited about coming back to camp. It's because of the depth of experience and awareness those guys have, we go right back to really having a solid group. I think these guys can be the best we've ever had.”
And speaking of linebackers…
2. “Bobby’s going to be a Seahawk.”
When asked about Wagner, who is heading into the final year of the contract extension he signed in 2015, Carroll said the two sides have had some discussions, and made it clear that the goal is to keep Wagner long-term.
“He’s an incredible player and been an incredible part of our program and the community and all that,” Carroll said. “Bobby’s going to be a Seahawk.”
Carroll also joked that signing Wright was part of the Wagner negotiations.
“That might have been the best thing we did to negotiate with Bobby,” he said. “Those guys are great friends, and they’re just warriors. They’ve been through it all together. Bobby was instrumental in the whole process.”
Not surprisingly, Carroll said the Seahawks are also in talks with Russell Wilson, who like Wagner is in the last year of his deal. Though it’s worth remembering that both Wagner and Wilson’s last extensions came in late July, so talking now doesn’t necessarily mean anything is imminent.
“We’ve been in communication, sure,” Carroll said. “It’s very topical, we’re on it.”
3. Re-signing D.J. Fluker and adding Mike Iupati makes the Seahawks “bigger, stronger, tougher.”
While the Seahawks did lose J.R. Sweezy in free agency, they still feel good about their situation at guard having re-signed D.J. Fluker and signed veteran Mike Iupati, a player the Seahawks know well having played against him while he was a member of the 49ers and Cardinals.
“Fluke and Iupati, I'm really looking forward to seeing those guys go,” Carroll said. “Mike's a guy we played against forever, love how tough he is and how physical he is. Add him to what Fluke brought us last year, I think it's going to be a real positive. Bigger, stronger, tougher is good for us.”
In Seattle, Iupati will again work with offensive line coach Mike Solari, who was his line coach for five seasons in San Francisco.
“Iupati said his favorite coach he ever had was Mike,” Carroll said. “That added to the positives of it. They have good background together. Again, we'll see it this year. Fluke was always ahead of our guys because of the understanding of what Mike expects. I think we just got a bit better.”
4. The Seahawks are excited to have Jason Myers back.
The Seahawks had Jason Myers in camp last year but ultimately went with Sebastian Janikowski as their kicker. Myers went on to have a Pro-Bowl season with the New York Jets, and after becoming a free agent, he wound up back in Seattle, signing with the Seahawks earlier this month.
“I had a real clear thought about it when he was free, we end the season and he's one of the top guys in the league,” Carroll said. “We had him, really liked the kid and thought the world of him. I remember saying to John (Schneider), if he had been on our team and had that kind of year, we would have done everything to sign him back. To me it wasn't that much different. He had an incredible season, great from long distance, extraordinarily consistent, he really liked being with us, family wanted to come back if they could, and it all fit together really well.”
5. Carroll likes Seattle’s options at safety.
After Earl Thomas’ 2018 season ended with a broken leg, the Seahawks went the rest of the season with Bradley McDougald, Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill at safety, and while the Seahawks could always add to that group between now and the start of the season, Carroll would be comfortable heading into 2019 with that group. In particular, Carroll raved about the growth Hill showed late in the season before sustaining a season-ending hip injury.
“I’m encouraged about the spot,” Carroll said. “Delano did a really nice job late in the season, he really came on. We chose him with the thought that he’s an extraordinary athlete, really fast, he’s big and strong, we thought he was the best tackler in the draft. In transitioning to the spot, all of a sudden he just popped last year, past the midway point, late in the season he just looked like he really embraced the position, the challenges, the questions, all that kind of stuff. So that’s a big positive. Bradley is a terrific football player. Bradley was working through some stuff last year, so he wasn’t as healthy as he would liked to have been. He’s feeling great now, and we’re hoping he’ll be back in great shape. Then T2 (Thompson) was a terrific performer for us. Remember how well he competed through camp, he made such a big impression. We know he’s a good player, he’s a smart kid. So it’s a good trio, at least. We’re in good shape right there.”
6. Akeem King could have a big role, and other options at the nickel corner spot.
With Justin Coleman signing in Detroit, the Seahawks will need to find a new nickel corner, which in today’s NFL is more or less a starting position. One name to watch there is Akeem King, who saw his role increase late in the year when the Seahawks used a dime (six defensive backs) package.
“He's going to be in the competition of it,” Carroll said. “He did a really nice job. He's going to have a shot at the nickel spot as well. We played him in there in the dime situation and moved him in and out of there. He's bigger than other guys—got a big, solid frame and over 200 pounds. He has been really consistent, he's really fast and we like the heck out of him. From what he did last year we expand his role, see where he can take it and expect him to play for us on a regular basis.”
Asked who else could battle for the nickel job, Carroll said, “Jeremy Boykins, I want to see what he does in there. He's real quick guy that did a really nice job for us. You guys don't know much about him. He's longer, he's more like Akeem is. Really feisty, really challenging guy. Kalan Reed will get a shot in there, too. We like what he does. He's played there before. We know that he looks good there as well. It's going to be a wide-open comp and we'll see how it goes.”
7. Carroll expects Tre Flowers to “be a monster” in his second season.
Tre Flowers had a good rookie season by any standards, but it was particularly impressive considering that he was a safety in college who was adjusting to a new position as an NFL rookie. Flowers won the starting job at right cornerback, and now with a year of experience under his belt and a better understanding of what it takes to play the position, he could be poised for a big 2019 season.
“He has been such a great guy to work with,” Carroll said. “He has been so tuned in and so dedicated to figuring out and uncovering the issues and concerns about playing the position. He’s continuing to apply that to the offseason. We always tell you about the enormous jump guys make from Year 1 to Year 2; he’ll come back with all of this history already in the books, and what I think we’ll see—he's already a really aggressive player and he loves to get after the ball and make his hits, and he’s a very good tackler and all of that—I think all of that is going to show up even more. He’ll just be more confident and more sure of himself, and I’m expecting him to be a monster out there. Expectations are high, we’re not going to count on him being the same, we want him to be better, and hopefully draw on the strengths that he has, because he’s got obvious strengths in his size and his tackling ability and the physical side of it. His ability to knock the ball out and force fumbles really stood out last year, it’s something we really cherish about his play, I think he can get quite a bit better there too. He’s got guys challenging him though too, he’s going to have to play well. He was very fortunate to play all those games last year and be healthy and make it through it for the experience and growth of that. But I can see Akeem and Jeremy Boykins coming after it too, so that’s good stuff, competition is always good.”
8. Carroll wants to find ways to get Shaquem Griffin involved as a pass-rusher.
Shaquem Griffin was primarily a pass-rusher at UCF, but the Seahawks moved him to weakside linebacker, seeing it as a better fit given his size (a bit small for an edge rusher) and speed (blazing fast). And while the Seahawks still plan on Griffin being a weakside linebacker, they do also want to find ways to get him more involved in the pass rush this year given how good he was at that in college.
“We need to show him more there,” Carroll said. “We need to see more. He didn’t get enough opportunities even in practice as we look back. Just because he had a knack for it, we need to uncover that, make sure we know what we’ve got.”
Asked if that meant using Griffin as a blitzing linebacker, and not as a pass-rusher at the line of scrimmage, Carroll said, “Primarily to start with. He’s going to have to be really unusual (to play end) because he’s 228 pounds. Not very many guys can rush the passer on offensive tackles at that size. I’m not going to put it past him. There’s nothing he can’t challenge. So we’ll see what happens with that.”
9. Carroll is excited to see Jacob Martin and Poona Ford take on bigger roles.
Defensive end Jacob Martin, a sixth-round pick, and defensive tackle Poona Ford, an undrafted rookie, both saw their roles increase late last season and played well in their limited opportunities. Carroll said both players should take on bigger roles this year, with Martin helping the pass rush rotation and Ford having a chance to battle for a starting job, especially with Shamar Stephen moving on in free agency.
“I’m pretty excited about what Jacob Martin did,” Carroll said. “If you guys check his stats, you’ll see Jacob Martin’s pressure percentage was really up there with elite players in a limited role. As a matter of fact, I saw Jacob the other day, he looks great, working hard to keep—he lost weight during the season, trimmed down more than we would like him to. I think if he can maintain his weight around 245, right in that area, I think it’s going to make a difference. But he had a very effective year, three sacks and a really good looking percentage of pressures, I think 15-something, which is right up there with really good players. So we’re thinking we give him more opportunities. He’s got a great motor, he plays like crazy on the field. So to have him and Frank (Clark) going, that’s fantastic energy that they bring. We’ll see how he does, but he should be better than last year.”
On Ford, Carroll said, “Yes, absolutely. Poona really did a nice job. We’re really fired up about him. Maybe we were a little conservative in playing him early but the more we played him the better he played and the more we saw. He’s a really active football player, great instincts, his ability to run sideline to sideline, he was demonstrating that. So we’re fired up. He’s going to play in the rotation with the first guys. We’re excited about that."
10. Carroll was “fired up” about Jake Olson’s performance at USC’s pro day.
Jake Olson used the bench press at USC’s pro day to raise money to fight the form of cancer, retinoblastoma, that cost him both of his eyes. And it’s no surprise that Carroll is particularly proud of Olson, who walked onto the USC football team as a long snapper. When Olson was 12, Carroll had him as a guest at USC practice just before the surgery that would cost him his eyesight, and the two have been close ever since.
“He did great,” Carroll said. “I was really proud of him, and he was raising money, too. That’s a heck of an accomplishment now. I’m giving him all 17 of those too. Just another thing that Jake does that blows me away. He has thrilled me throughout his life and that was just another one. I was so fired up for him.”