How Seahawks built Super Bowl team
When head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider were hired by the Seattle Seahawks in early 2010, both men understood that there was serious work to be done. They made over 300 transactions in their first year together, and Carroll’s “Always Compete” mantra has meant that any player on this roster is a few screw-ups away from demotion or outright release, and any other player is a few great moments away from a starting spot.
“I think the biggest thing with our relationship is we both recognize that nobody has all the answers, and we’re continually pushing the envelope every single day trying to get better,” Schneider told the Seattle media last week. “Regarding Pete, one of the biggest things with him is that he’s a no-ego guy. All he wants to do is win games and be successful. He just has a unique ability to bring out the best in people, and he’s done that with me.”
The main story of the rebuilt team that will represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVIII is the number of players who came to this team as lower draft picks, undrafted free agents and players from other teams who didn’t fill their potential until they came to Seattle. That’s a function of the communication between Carroll and Schneider more than anything else — the Seahawks front office has an implicit understanding of the kinds of players Carroll and his staff want, and Schneider in particular will leave no stone unturned when it comes to building a team.
Russell Wilson (2012 third-round pick), Tarvaris Jackson (free agency, 2013)
Wilson is one of the best bargains in the NFL, and though his pass attempts are rarely in the stratosphere, he has an unusual acuity in the face of defensive pressure. That’s a good thing because behind Seattle’s offensive line he faces more pressure than any other NFL quarterback — 43.8 percent of his snaps in the regular season, and 53.7 percent in the postseason. Wilson relies on play action to create shot plays, and he’s especially good when he’s forced to roll out of the pocket and improvise after things have broken down.
Jackson is a tough, mobile veteran who has a lot of respect in the locker room. He doesn’t have Wilson’s accuracy or consistency, but he’s good enough to spot in and help a power run game and a great defense win games. Jackson spent 2011 as Seattle’s starter and then rode the bench for the Buffalo Bills.
Marshawn Lynch (2010 trade), Robert Turbin (2012 fourth-round pick), Christine Michael (2012 second-round pick), Derrick Coleman (undrafted, 2012), Michael Robinson (free agency, 2010)
Schneider wanted Lynch in Green Bay, and when he came to Seattle in 2010, he didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a trade that sent a couple of low draft picks to the Bills for Lynch’s services. Lynch immediately defined Seattle’s offense with his toughness, agility and durability. Robinson has been his fullback through most of that time. Turbin has some of Lynch’s characteristics — he’s a tough runner with some second-level speed. Michael might be the future of Seattle’s run game because he combines the inside power this team requires with impressive second-level speed. Coleman, the only deaf player in the NFL, has impressed his coaches with his persistence and work ethic.
Wide receivers and tight ends
Golden Tate (2010 second-round pick), Doug Baldwin (undrafted, 2011), Percy Harvin (trade, 2013), Jermaine Kearse (undrafted, 2012), Ricardo Lockette (free agency, 2013), Zach Miller (free agency, 2011), Luke Willson (2013 fifth-round pick), Kellen Davis (free agency, 2013)
The Seahawks took Tate in 2010, and it took time to develop him, especially in his route concepts. But he’s become a valuable threat outside and in the team’s speed seam concepts. Baldwin is a tenacious player who has added some outside ability to his palette over time, but he’s really the ideal faster slot possession guy. Carroll had coveted Harvin since his high school days and was happy to acquire him via a trade last offseason. The trade hasn’t panned out too well because Harvin has been dealing with a hip injury and concussion issues. But when he’s on the field (and Carroll has said that he’s set to perform without limitation in the Super Bowl), there are few more dangerous threats in the slot, outside, on sweeps, on deep routes, and in the return game. Seattle runs as many two-tight ends sets as any team, and the Miller-Willson combo has paid dividends. Willson has been an underrated performer in his rookie campaign.
Russell Okung (2010 first-round pick), James Carpenter (2011 first-round pick), Max Unger (2009 second-round pick), J.R. Sweezy (2012 seventh-round pick), Breno Giacomini (free agent, 2011), Michael Bowie (2013 seventh-round pick), Alvin Bailey (undrafted, 2013), Paul McQuistan (free agency, 2011), Lemuel Jeanpierre (undrafted, 2011).
For a line with a lot high picks, Seattle’s front five is less than impactful. Okung and Unger are the two consistently great players, and after that — especially at the guard positions — things become far more problematic. Carpenter was supposed to be Seattle’s franchise right tackle, but injuries and physical potential problems have moved him inside. McQuistan and Giacomini are the gritty veterans you see on every line — neither player will blow you away on tape, but they’re smart … except when Giacomini starts racking up the personal fouls. Sweezy is a college defensive lineman who’s become the project of line coach Tom Cable.
Bowie and Bailey may be the Seahawks’ future at the guard positions — they were both college tackles, and Cable likes how they’ve worked to learn new roles. Whether the Seahawks win the Super Bowl or not, the guard position is one that Carroll and Schneider should accentuate in the draft and free agency.
Red Bryant (2008 fourth-round pick), Tony McDaniel (free agency, 2013), Brandon Mebane (2007 third-round pick), Chris Clemons (free agency, 2010), Michael Bennett (free agency, 2013), Cliff Avril (free agency, 2013), Clinton McDonald (free agency, 2013), Benson Mayowa (undrafted, 2013)
The Seahawks brought Bennett and Avril in this offseason, moving Bruce Irvin from end to outside linebacker, and the new additions up front have paid great dividends. Bennett is the line’s secret star, though — not only did he lead his team in total defensive pressures for the second straight season (he did the same for the Buccaneers in 2012), but also his ability to slip inside and play tackle adds to Carroll’s concepts of defensive versatility. Bryant is a former defensive tackle converted to jumbo five-tech run-stopping end at the suggestion of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, and he’s just about impossible to move. Clemons has seen his numbers drop this season to 4.5 sacks after at least 11 in the last three seasons, and that should be a concern — at 32, he’s hitting the age where most speed rushers plummet like dead parrots. McDonald was another nifty acquisition — he’s an undersized hole-plugger with a knack for chasing quarterbacks. Mebane is the rock of the line. No Seahawks player has been on the roster longer, and he’s transcended the pre-Carroll uncertainty and turned himself into one of the league’s best nose tackles.
Bruce Irvin (2012 first-round pick), Bobby Wagner (2012 second-round pick), K.J. Wright (2011 fourth-round pick), Malcolm Smith (2011 seventh-round pick), O’Brien Schofield (free agency, 2013), Heath Farwell (free agency, 2012), Mike Morgan (undrafted, 2011)
Carroll has said that he prefers to have a 4-3 defense with 3-4 principles, and Irvin — who was drafted as a defensive end — is a prime example of the versatility the Seahawks demand from their defenders. Irvin is still finding his way in a new “endbacker” role, but he has the speed and agility to rush the passer and drop into coverage — he’s just a work in progress right now. That can’t be said of Wagner and Wright, two of the better players at their positions in the league. Wagner is the slightly better run-stopper and Wright has a bit more acumen in coverage. Both fit the Carroll mold — big, athletic and very aggressive. When Wright suffered a foot injury late in the season, Smith stepped in and posted some very impressive performances, especially against the pass. Schofield is a good pass-rushing backup, while Farwell and Morgan are key special-teamers.
Richard Sherman (2011 fifth-round pick), Byron Maxwell (2011 sixth-round pick), Walter Thurmond (2010 fourth-round pick), Jeremy Lane (2012 sixth-round pick), DeShawn Shead (undrafted, 2012), Earl Thomas (2010 first-round pick), Kam Chancellor (2010 fifth-round pick), Chris Maragos (free agency, 2011)
There is no better example of the united personnel philosophy between Carroll and Schneider than the construction of a secondary that ranks as the league’s best with three of the four starters as fourth-round picks or lower. And Thomas, the sole first-round pick, has become the best at his position and one of the best overall players in the NFL. Sherman is a former receiver at Stanford who, far beyond all the trash-talking, has become the best cover cornerback in the NFL. Chancellor has linebacker size, and he’s developing coverage ability all over the field. Thurmond and Maxwell had started to get more reps even before Brandon Browner was suspended for a year for various violations of the league’s substance abuse and performance-enhancing substance policies, and Maxwell has really stepped up. The secondary is the crown jewel of Seattle’s roster.