Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and coach Pete Carroll have built a sturdy defense.
RENTON — Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, the nicest man ever to lead a pack of cutthroats, grins at the question.
Do you ever have a bad day?
The man’s blood type is sunshine. He’s more energetic and positive than even Pete Carroll. Every day seems like his favorite. He is carpe diem in a cap and goatee.
“When you’re coaching football and you enjoy it this much, it’s tough to have a bad day,” Bradley said after practice last week. “I know it sounds overboard and positive, but it really is. It’s hard to be down out here.”
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Especially when you’re coaching the Seahawks’ defense.
Bradley gushes over a recent proud-coach moment. In the defensive meeting room, he’s watching film with the players, and it looks like a highlight reel of max effort. Play after play, all 11 guys on the field swarm the ball carrier. It’s a gang-tackling clinic. It’s a stunning illustration of the unit’s commitment. As they watch, several excited players shout, “Yeah, you better get your butt to the ball every time!”
Never a bad day.
After a roster overhaul and an infusion of youth, the Seahawks have created a team that should turn into a contender in Carroll’s third season. It’s mostly because they have built a multifaceted defense capable of mystifying and manhandling opponents. At the heart of a unit blessed with a brilliant scheme and unique personnel are Bradley and Carroll, who have grown from strangers into an innovative tandem in two years.
It’s hard to believe now that the pairing almost didn’t happen. When Carroll took over as the Seahawks’ coach and executive vice president in January 2010, the thought was that he would seek his own defensive coordinator. Bradley was a holdover from Jim Mora’s lone season in Seattle, and the 2009 season had ended with four straight losses, including awful performances in a 34-7 defeat at Houston and a 48-10 defeat at Green Bay.
It was easy to expect Carroll, a great defensive mind with particular tastes, to clean house. But Bradley was a disciple of former Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Carroll’s closest confidant. After learning of Bradley’s virtue from Kiffin, Carroll decided to get to know the defensive coordinator he had inherited before making a final decision.
Bradley canceled a family vacation to wait for the opportunity to talk to Carroll. The new head coach was busy working with then-CEO Tod Leiweke on another key hire in this rebuilding: selecting John Schneider to be the general manager. But after a few days, the two finally had a long discussion exchanging ideas about defense. It was cordial, delightful even, but Bradley went home that night still uncertain whether he would be retained.
“Well, how’d you think it went?” his wife, Michaela, asked.
“I don’t know,” Bradley said.
Soon after, Carroll called and told Bradley he wanted him to stay.
Since then, the Seahawks have done fascinating work creating an original defense.
In Tampa, Bradley learned the intricacies of Kiffin’s often-emulated variation of the Cover-2 scheme. Carroll had learned under Kiffin as a young coach at Arkansas in 1978, and over the past 34 years, they’ve become like family. But Carroll has his own defensive philosophies, and with the help of Bradley and the entire Seahawks defensive staff, he has been able to combine a lifetime of concepts with some fresh wrinkles to develop what amounts to a career capstone defensive project.
It’s a defense that can be explained, at its most elementary level, as a hybrid scheme that mixes 3-4 concepts in a 4-3 front. But what makes the Seahawks stand out is the coaches’ willingness to play off the diverse skills of their players. That flexibility has allowed the Seahawks to identify underrated talent that doesn’t fit into a mold, to focus on strengths instead of weaknesses in player evaluations and to create an oversized, yet not lumbering, defensive unit.
The defense is defined by its abnormally tall and physical 6-foot-3 cornerbacks, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, as well as its 320-pound defensive end, Red Bryant. Then you look at the safeties — the swift free safety Earl Thomas and the huge, thumping strong safety Kam Chancellor — to catch a glimpse of the defense’s diversity.
“We’re a melting pot of sorts,” Sherman said.
It is Carroll’s vision. But he has never had a coordinator as equipped as Bradley to lead it.
“He’s the best teacher I’ve ever been around,” Carroll said. “He’s so thorough, so thoughtful, and he’ll go to such lengths to find ways to make sense of the information so the guys can understand it in practical ways.
“It doesn’t matter how good we teach. It’s how well they learn. I think that connection is really clear with Gus. He’s great at it.”
Bradley is a storyteller. He loves to wrap his messages around a tale. The players laugh when thinking about the different ways that Bradley can make a point.
The message that stays with them the most? It’s one of Bradley’s favorite sayings: “Be allergic to the big meal. Eat the crumbs.”
It’s his way of preaching humility. Bradley once served his players plates full of crumbs for emphasis.
Bradley has a focused unit that established itself as a top-10 defense a year ago. The expectations are even higher this season, and if the Seahawks can muster a better pass rush, they’re likely to meet their lofty goals. They’re too hungry. They’re also too different.
“This defense works out well for us,” Chancellor said. “Other teams can try to figure it out or copy it, but the secret is that it’s built around the players. That’s what makes us unique. You can’t create players exactly like the ones we have. And not everyone has that dog in them like we do. We’re hungry. You can’t imagine how well we work together, how much we bond, how bad we want it.”
Bradley, the orchestrator of it all, smiles. Crumbs have never tasted so delicious.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org