One striking element of the Seahawks’ minicamp this past week, and the Organized Team Activities that preceded it, has been the uninterrupted lovefest toward new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron.
One offensive player after another has extolled the virtues of Waldron — his ingenuity, his knowledge, his coaching style, the endless possibilities of his magical X’s and O’s. It’s hard to know whether Pete Carroll hired Waldron, or Bill Walsh reincarnate.
It’s not unusual for a new coach to be lauded, because everything is still theoretical, and the possibilities of change are always intoxicating. We haven’t yet seen the offense bog down, followed by the inevitable second-guessing after a tough loss. Remember, we heard a lot of glowing remarks about Brian Schottenheimer after he was hired, too.
It’s still encouraging to see the outpouring of support for Waldron. Yet we all know that it won’t mean much unless one key person buys in totally to Waldron’s vision for revitalizing the Seahawks offense: Pete Carroll.
You might counter that it’s actually the other way around: It’s Waldron who has to buy in to Carroll’s vision of what it takes to win in the NFL. After all, it’s Carroll who runs the show. It’s Carroll who has won a Super Bowl and has the career bona fides, especially when compared to a first-time coordinator.
Most importantly, it’s Carroll who decided after dismissing Schottenheimer that Waldron was the one to implement the priorities that he has made crystal clear over the years: First and foremost, that all offensive success is predicated on establishing the run.
That doesn’t seem to jibe with all the talk we’ve been hearing this week about the uptempo, varied, explosive offense that Waldron is installing. In fact, it has sounded suspiciously like Waldron is mixing the ingredients to let Russ cook; yet you might remember that Carroll ditched the wide-open offense of the first half of 2020 after a gruesome stretch of turnovers. The first thing he said at the end of the season, while looking ahead to 2021, was: “We have to run the ball better. Not even better — we have to run it more.”
Let’s flash forward to Thursday, and Carroll’s comments after the final practice of minicamp, marking the end of offseason workouts. The next time the Seahawks gather will be in late July for training camp and the ramp-up to the season.
Asked about Waldron, Carroll added to the deluge of praise and then said something notable: That he has let the new coach have free rein in putting his stamp on the offense.
“I have not gotten in his way because he has such command of what he’s doing,” Carroll said. “He knows how it fits together, and he’s been able to orchestrate the teaching process in a way that’s allowed us to do quite a few things for this offseason.
“You can hear from the players; they’re impressed with him. He’s just left them with a really good impression of his command, his verbiage. These guys are really moving far. They’re impressed, I’m impressed.”
Does this signify that Carroll has decided to let his OC cook? More likely, it means that the two are in lockstep about what it takes to get the Seahawks offense humming. And, by early indication, Russell Wilson is buying in as well.
“Russ has just totally embraced it,” Carroll said Thursday. “… There’s already a chemistry brewing here. They’re already working together really well.”
It’s going to be a delicate balance to reconcile Carroll’s stated desire to prioritize establishing the run with the concept of a free-wheeling, fast-moving Seattle offense that just about everyone wants to see.
But Carroll has always insisted that explosiveness is the result of being able to run at will; the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. You just have to go back to Carroll’s end-of-the-season interview session in January following their playoff ouster by the Rams to get broad clues about his mindset.
He spoke then of how the Seahawks were hampered by the preponderance of Cover-2 defensive schemes that teams used against them, keeping two safeties deep to eliminate the big plays that had been so successful in the first half of the season.
“Frankly, I’d like to not play against 2-deep looks all season long next year,” Carroll said back then. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to run the ball 50 times a game. It means we need to run the ball with direction and focus and style that allows us to dictate the game.”
That’s where Waldron’s schemes come in. His task is to not just implement a running game that will make opponents put their safeties closer to the line; it’s to complement that look with the sort of quick passing game that has been a hallmark of the Rams; and thus make it easier for Wilson to hit the home-run balls to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
It all works in concert, at least in theory. The Seahawks showed last year where it could go astray. Carroll believes the addition of tight end Gerald Everett from the Rams will be a huge help in their short and intermediate passing game; Wilson had just one completion for 7 yards to a tight end in the season-ending Rams loss. And Carroll said this week that third-down conversions will be a huge priority. The Seahawks ranked just 27th in third-down conversions last year at just over 38%.
“If we can be really good on third downs and stay on the field, be around 50%, we’re going to be really hard to deal with,” Carroll said Thursday.
And what helps keep a team out of untenable third-and-long situations, which the Seahawks had far too many of last year (38 of 10 yards or longer, of which they converted just two)? Running the ball better.
“I know every time I mention the running game, everybody goes crazy,” Carroll said. “We’re going to be a balanced football team again, and we’re going to do the things we need to do to play really good ball. Like always, that means being able to keep the ball away from the other guys, and hang on to it, and not let them have it so that we can go score.
“We’ve got a tremendous quarterback, with a great system, and he’s got guys around them … We’ve always been explosive when we’re at our best, and when we’re at our best, we’ve been able to run the football and be really explosive. That’s hard to stop.”
Yes, that sounds like the Pete Carroll we’ve known for a decade now. Now we’ll see if a heavy sprinkling of Shane Waldron turns that into a sustainable championship formula.