Under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks have built a culture of relentless positivity and unwavering toughness, navigating that slippery slope with such conviction you forget how rare it is. And how difficult to pull off.
Carroll has taken this headstrong group of diverse players and melded them into a team that has bonded together to inflict mayhem on their opponents.
It has been a wonder to watch this develop over the four seasons of the Carroll era. But now, as a new season beckons, Carroll faces his biggest challenge yet. Which, predictably, invigorates him.
No one needs to remind Carroll of the potential peril that threatens the Seahawks. Land mines lurk behind every tackling dummy, distractions around every goal post.
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Being a defending Super Bowl champion doesn’t just mean that every team is gunning for you with maximum motivation (though they will be). The biggest challenge is internal: Recapturing the hunger and drive that led you to the top in the first place, when all sorts of external forces – fame, fortune, human nature – are conspiring against it.
For that reason, I believe that Carroll is the Seahawk most on the spot in 2014. Not Richard Sherman, whose outspokenness will make him a marked man by opponents. Not Marshawn Lynch (if and when he shows up), trying to prove that he’s still a force at age 28. Not even Russell Wilson, for whom guiding the Seahawks to the title in his second season isn’t even sufficient to quiet all the doubters.
Already, Carroll is facing his first quandary, as Lynch stays away from camp because of a contract dispute, putting a damper on what should have been a festive occasion. As much as Carroll stressed the flip side – added opportunity for young running backs Christine Michael and Robert Turbin – it’s the first significant holdout of the Carroll era. And that brings with it an undeniable tension and air of uncertainty.
Former fullback Michael Robinson, in a recent interview on the Dave Dameshek football podcast, spoke of another possible danger: The departure of locker room leaders like Red Bryant and himself at a time they’re needed most.
“My question for the Seahawks this year is … there’s a lot of young guys in that locker room with new money,” Robinson told Dameshek. “When issues come up in the locker room, who is the veteran that settles it? . … Things come up: ‘Hey guys — stop doing that! Hey, you go over there, you go over there, and it’s over. No more.’
“And guys would stop. Right now, guys have gotten paid, you know what I mean? Guys have got egos, you know what I mean? That’s just only natural with money, and they have to watch against that in the locker room, and that’s something that Pete [Carroll] can’t see — their offices are upstairs. They just have to keep a close watch on it.”
Carroll runs a playful, joyful camp, but the question now is, will his methods still work for a team that has already reached the pinnacle? He has no doubts, pointing out that the framework for overcoming such obstacles is already in place.
“It isn’t just about this season in response to last season,’’ Carroll said. “We’ve had a real clear thought about how we attack every day. The work we do on a day-to-day, week-to-week, game-to-game basis is the same process we’ll use to deal with whatever you’re suggesting is at hand now.
“Had we just started the conversation now after a championship season, I’d be wondering what was going to happen. But we’ve been in the mentality…We went into last season with some people’s expectations that we’d be in the Super Bowl. And we’ve dealt with that at the time, and so this is a carryover from that.”
As to concern about the absence of veteran leadership, Carroll said: “I don’t think we have ever been a team that relied on the older guys to give us the direction. It’s been a young, thriving mentality since we have got here. Now those guys in their third and fourth year seem like seasoned vets to us. It feels like the locker room is strong.”
It does feel that way, and Carroll navigated back-to-back national championships at USC in 2003 and 2004 (though the school was later stripped of the ’04 title because of NCAA violations). But the dynamic is different at the professional level. Carroll will have to be constantly vigilant for warning signs of trouble brewing.
It’s impossible to know for sure, of course, what’s in someone else’s heart – even for a proven motivator like Carroll. His confidence lies in the power of the program and the consistency of the message.
“I’m hoping our guys feel comfortable with the expectations, and that it seems normal for them to have this kind of attention,’’ he said. “We’ll deal with it properly by really focusing on what’s at hand each day as it comes to us.”
It’s a daunting task. And Carroll can’t wait to get going.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.