RENTON — Karl Scott, the Seahawks’ first-year defensive passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach, says one of his primary goals in coaching his position is to turn players into thinkers who are not also blinkers.
What does he mean by that?
“One thing that’s prevalent is if you’re thinking too much, if your mind is moving too fast, then usually your feet are not moving as fast as that,” said Scott, who spent last season as the defensive backs coach of the Minnesota Vikings. “You get guys that are thinking. Just picture in your head the guys who think and stay there and start to blink. You know what I mean? That’s not very good on the football field as things are flying around you.”
No it’s not.
And while Scott’s “thinkers but not blinkers” mantra may be unique, the overall philosophy isn’t necessarily new.
Coaches forever have talked of getting players comfortable enough with what they are doing that they can simply play without their brains being bogged down in details. That’s been a key tenet of Pete Carroll’s philosophy for years and one reason Seattle’s defenses have long been considered as uncomplicated as any in the NFL.
But with new assistants Scott and Sean Desai, the associate head coach for defense, bringing in some new looks to the Seattle defense, teaching and learning loom more critical than ever to on-field success this fall.
And when it comes to Scott’s specific players, there may be no one for whom getting up to speed may be more vital than rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen.
As the Seahawks conducted OTAs and minicamp over the past few weeks, no player loomed as intriguing as Woolen, a 6-foot-4, 205-pounder whose 4.26 40-yard dash was the second-fastest of anyone at the 2022 NFL combine.
Woolen’s off-the-charts metrics were evident throughout the offseason program — leaping for passes in drills and staying stride-for-stride with the team’s fastest receivers, notably veteran Marquise Goodwin, a four-time All-American in track at the University of Texas.
“Probably the flashiest guy was Tariq Woolen,” Carroll said last week in assessing the team’s nine-man rookie draft class. “He was the flashiest in camp. He missed some early time (with a sore hamstring). But once he got out here, shoot, you couldn’t miss him out there because he’s long and tall and he is really fast.”
Woolen’s performances in the workouts only further fueled the draft-day comparisons to Richard Sherman — in size and length, anyway, as Sherman’s combine speed was “just” 4.56.
But if Sherman didn’t have elite raw speed on a track, he was able to quickly develop All-Pro playing speed on the field on Sundays.
That’s now the task for Woolen, which also makes him maybe the biggest wild card in Seattle’s secondary this year.
Woolen, who was a receiver until switching to cornerback in 2019 at the University of Texas-San Antonio, spent the offseason program working with the second and third defenses at right cornerback, with veterans Sidney Jones (left) and Artie Burns (right) as the starters and Justin Coleman at the nickel. Second-year player Tre Brown could also emerge as a starter once recovered from knee surgery last November.
And fellow rookie Coby Bryant is considered readier to play than Woolen following a career at Cincinnati in which he was a four-year starter, capped by winning the Jim Thorpe Award as a senior in 2021 given to the country’s best defensive back.
Seattle typically keeps five cornerbacks on its initial 53-man roster but appears to have at least six who are viable candidates to make it. Woolen, though, is unquestionably in the team’s long-term plans.
The question will be how quickly can he adapt to an NFL defense and get into Seattle’s immediate plans, as well.
Scott said he considers all rookies as “raw because obviously, this game speed-wise, age-wise is a lot different than the game they’re coming from.”
But Woolen’s relative lack of experience at the position — he had 16 college starts at cornerback — may make him rawer than most.
Asked Tuesday where Woolen needs improvement, Scott started with knowledge of the defense.
“I would say just football intelligence of knowing situationally what’s going on around him,” Scott said. “And it’s not just him. That’s everybody, trying to teach those guys the game. I think a lot of times we get lost in athletes and guys just playing football instead of learning the nuances of the game and helping yourself out, especially at the defensive back position. When you play DB, obviously, you’re at a disadvantage from the jump because that guy you’re lined up on knows where he’s going and you don’t.
“Anything that you could do to give yourself a clue or idea of what he might be doing and then be able to respond to what you see, I think those are the things that he is going to have to pick up as we go.”
The good news is Scott said Woolen has done nothing but embrace the challenge. How quickly he can go from embracing the challenge to mastering it, though, will go a long way to determining how much Woolen sees the field in 2022.
“I’ve handled way worse problems before if you want to call them problems,” Scott said. “Like I said, from the jump, he’s a guy who’s intrigued and he looks for, ‘What challenge do you have for me today?’ or even identifying those challenges and being able to attack those.”