This story originally appeared in the March 30 edition of Hawk Mail. To subscribe to Hawk Mail, click here.
PHOENIX, Ariz. —When Seahawks coach Pete Carroll talked about his team in early March, he said he was "just as hopeful as ever" about the Seahawks heading into the 2017 season.
Nearly a month later, and after several moves in free agency, Carroll's optimism has only grown—that is if it's possible for the always-upbeat Carroll to become any more optimistic.
At the most basic level, the Seahawks' future remains bright because they have some of the most important elements of a successful NFL team—strong ownership and management, harmony between talented coaches and personnel people, and in Russell Wilson, a franchise quarterback just entering his prime. But beyond those reasons that have been in place for several years and should be for years to come, Carroll is happy to rattle off a list that explains why the Seahawks should again be one of the league's top teams in 2017.
"I think there's a big jump that's going to occur on the offensive line, I think that's a part of it," Carroll said Wednesday at the NFL Annual Meetings. "I think the urgency is as high as ever. We were frustrated that we couldn't quite get it together (last season) because on the offensive side we got banged up, and we couldn't get back to full stride with Russ and with Thomas (Rawls). Adding Eddie (Lacy) is an element that we wanted to add for the emphasis and the focus of returning to the formula that we know is championship.
"We were close last year and we weren't right, and we were so young up front. So if everybody comes back with the energy that they left with, and then adding competition to that, I think it could really be something. To get a guy like Luke Joeckel on our team with a bunch of young guys is a fantastic addition for us. There's a lot of positives. Jimmy (Graham) is going to be healthy, Thomas is going to be healthy, C.J. (Prosise) may be able to withstand the rigors of it. C.J. was a huge factor for us when he was healthy, you could see it, it was so obvious. He's just getting started. He's having a great offseason, he's freaking yoked up."
It's hardly a coincidence that Carroll was quick to point to the Lacy signing, as well as Rawls' and Prosise's return to health, as reasons to be bullish about the Seahawks' future. For all that went well for the Seahawks last year, including another division title, they were not the same team when it came to running the ball that they had been in previous years under Carroll and general manager John Schneider. And of all the things Carroll and the Seahawks experienced last year, nothing stuck with him quite like his team's inability to be balanced on offense with a physical running game. From signing Lacy to bolstering the line to counting on big improvement from young linemen already on the roster, one of the biggest themes of this offseason has been getting back to having a physical running game and offensive balance.
"I learned that not maintaining the rhythm of the running game that we've had really factored into everything," Carroll said. "We had to throw the ball more, and it exposed some stuff. It exposed the young linemen somewhat, it forced us into situations on the other side of the ball, all of that. That's why I'm so adamant about getting us back to the elements that we need to have in the running game that complement the rest of the team. I'm not pointing the finger and blaming anyone, but that's what was so glaringly obvious. When Russell wasn't equipped to run, it factored into the running game in the subtle ways—over the years he has made us unique. In one respect, we've learned how to play without it and still win the division and all of that, and we'll be better for that, but that's not the way I want to go. So I'll try to avoid that as much as possible."
And when Carroll talks about a sense of urgency, don't take that to mean that there had been complacency in Seattle's locker room. What he sees in his players isn't a group that let up after experiencing back-to-back Super Bowls, but rather one that is even more motivated to get back to that level having fallen short of it the past two seasons. And while Seattle's core group of players are mostly right in the middle of their primes, they still feel that urgency because they know there are only a finite number of cracks at postseason success left in their careers.
"Instead of it going, 'well they're getting complacent,' it's going the other way," Carroll said. "That's what I like about it. OK, they've been here five, six years now, then seven and eight, they're getting closer to the end, so let's go. They're really in tune with the additions that we make, they're looking for us to fit the pieces together just right, because they want to make a run again. And there's no reason that we can't. We're not old yet. We're still in the middle of it."
And if we can step back for a moment and look at the big picture, it's worth remembering that the Seahawks are "still in the middle" of something pretty remarkable. The Seahawks have won 10 or more games and gone to the playoffs for five straight seasons, winning three NFC West titles, two NFC championships and one Super Bowl along the way. Prior to the 2012 season, the Seahawks had only five 10-win seasons in their entire existence. The NFL is a league designed to create parity, which is what makes what teams like the Patriots, Seahawks and Packers have done in recent years all the more impressive.
"I don't appreciate it because of the hard work of it, I appreciate it because you can't do it—most teams can't do it," Carroll said of his team's sustained success. "There are some cycles to it. When you have the right players, when you have the right quarterback—that's such a pivotal spot—that's part of it. Look at New England and the Packers and Atlanta and us, look at the teams that continue to win, they've got quarterbacks who can do it. Then there are cycles to it with the coaching, the philosophy and the approach and all of that. Sometimes guys are on it and sometimes they aren't. You have to really be locked on it to maintain it, because you get knocked around and things challenge you so much, you can get knocked out of your philosophy and your approach, and now you're floundering somewhat. That's why you see so much change, I think."
That the Seahawks have kept the same coach and general manager together for seven seasons—and both signed multi-year contract extensions last summer—is as big of a reason as any why people should buy into Carroll's optimism.
"There's stability, look at the stability in New England, look at our stability," Carroll said. "You can see that we've been so tuned in and have the advantage of the continuity, along with everything else, and that's just to be there, that's just to give you a chance. That doesn't mean you've got it, it just means you've got a chance to stay on top."
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