The most scrutinized person in the entire Seahawks’ organization in 2021 is 42 years old and his playing career peaked two decades ago at the college football powerhouse that is Tufts University.
He’ll be camped on the sideline and won’t throw a single pass or make one tackle. But that doesn’t mean that Shane Waldron won’t be bearing a disproportionate amount of pressure in the upcoming season — at least from the outside world.
Waldron is the Seahawks’ new offensive coordinator, a position that always brings out the second-guessers in full force. Waldron’s degree of difficulty is magnified exponentially by the circumstances he walks into as Brian Schottenheimer’s replacement.
Waldron will be asked to improve a Seattle offense that scored a franchise-record 459 points last year without a single defensive or special-teams touchdown, yet was perceived as, if not a failure, certainly not good enough.
He will be asked to mesh seamlessly with the core beliefs of coach Pete Carroll, who let Schottenheimer go three days after a 30-20 playoff loss to the Rams in which Seattle managed just 278 yards in total offense. The organization cited “philosophical differences” in their news release.
Waldron will also be required to mesh with quarterback Russell Wilson, which puts him square in the middle of a complicated dynamic. He must reconcile Carroll’s desire to establish the run first and foremost with Wilson’s preference for a wide-open attack that highlights his penchant for explosive plays. All while drawing up X’s and O’s that keep Wilson clean in the pocket.
And he will be doing it all as a first-time signal caller, unless you count the occasional exhibition game, scrimmage or practice when Rams coach Sean McVay handed Waldron — his passing game coordinator — the keys to the car.
Much is riding on Waldron’s ability to satisfy all his masters and minimize the bumpiness of his inevitable learning curve. Carroll turns 70 three days after Seattle’s opener in Indianapolis; though he is signed through 2025, there is a sense of urgency to get the Seahawks back to the Super Bowl, or at least make a deep playoff run.
And Wilson pointedly expressed some dissatisfaction during the offseason, primarily with his protection. Fences were mended, and Wilson has exuded nothing but positivity during training camp. But if the offense struggles as it did for stretches last year and he feels he’s not being used optimally, it’s possible that those issues could come to a head again.
The feedback on Waldron has been nothing but positive since minicamps and OTAs in the offseason. The praise reached a crescendo during training camp, as player after player — on both sides of the ball — raved about the tempo of Waldron’s offense and his ability to draw up formations and plays that maximize the Seahawks’ ability to utilize all their weapons.
Receivers like Tyler Lockett have been pleased with the freedom they have in Waldron’s system. Tight end Gerald Everett, acquired from the Rams, talked about how much the increase in presnap motion will loosen up the defense.
Meanwhile, the critical relationship between Waldron and Wilson has been, thus far, a full-blown bromance.
Waldron on Wilson: “Football is No. 1 for him. I know he has done a lot in his career already; he’s got a lot of other things that go on outside of football, but football is No. 1. He shows up early. He stays late. Everything you would hope and want from a quarterback, he delivers. So, every day’s been a pleasure to be around him, and it’s been nothing but positive.”
Wilson on Waldron: “Shane and I are on the same page. We have a great sense of what we’re trying to do and how we’re going to do it. … I think we are going to be excellent on offense. I think we are going to be able to move the ball really well. We have confidence in what we are doing.”
Of course, everything is always rosy in training camp, until the first loss or slump hits. The huge tests are still to come.
Carroll’s run-first mentality was expressed bluntly in his first news conference after the Seahawks’ playoff loss when he said, “We have to run the ball better. Not even run the ball better, run it more.”
But the Seahawks don’t believe that sentiment is at cross-purposes with fans’ desire to Let Russ Cook, to resurrect a tired phrase that deserves to be retired to the Bromide Resting Home.
“We want to be the one that puts the foot on the gas pedal,” Waldron said. “Just saying that it’s a balanced attack doesn’t mean that that’s a conservative attack, so I don’t ever want to get that confused.”
As Carroll has explained many times, once opponents respect the run, they will get out of the two-deep defensive looks that thwarted their vertical game too often last year. He hopes that Waldron will also integrate the sort of short passing game that the Rams have mastered to help set up the big strikes.
“I think for us it’s really about getting the ball to our guys fast, quick as possible, and taking our shots too,’’ Wilson said. “Also giving the ball to 32 (Chris Carson) and letting him run is always a good thing.”
“Hopefully, our ability to mix the running and the passing game can be as good as it’s ever been,’’ Carroll said. “That’s what I’m hoping for.”
It’s a lofty ambition, and one that all eyes will be watching to see if Waldron can make it happen.