The environment GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have created means there is no laziness for those who hope to stay on the roster.
RENTON — In the early days, John Schneider and Pete Carroll used to dream. They wanted to rebuild the Seahawks franchise with smart, tough and reliable football players. Five years ago, they looked up to the maulers of that time, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, and aspired to match their physical styles of play.
They pursued as many hard-nosed athletes as they could find. The result is what we now see: The most relentless and physically imposing team in the NFL, characteristics that have lifted the Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. They are Seahawks Tough, if you will. They have an identity, and it helps focus the front office on what it’s looking for in just about every player acquisition.
But as much as this gives the Seahawks clarity about how to add to their team, it also creates an interesting challenge. They have such an intense, rugged and ultra-competitive roster that they must be extremely thoughtful about the players they bring in, especially in the draft.
During the 2015 NFL draft next week, Schneider hopes to do his best at identifying talent that has the right mentality to fit into the Seahawks’ culture. It’s not easy, he says. He admits that, over the past few years, the Seahawks have had some draft miscalculations not because the players weren’t good enough, but because they weren’t ready to handle the heat the Seahawks apply.
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On Sundays, the Seahawks are typically a loose and focused team that performs with great effort. They haven’t been blown out in four years. They’ve won 75 percent of their games since Russell Wilson became their quarterback. If you’re going to beat the Seahawks, you had better prepare to endure a grueling 60 minutes of football.
To reach that level of consistent tenacity, the Seahawks have taken Carroll’s “Always Compete” mantra to heart. The emphasis on competition is a daily grind. Though Carroll is a positive coach who sprinkles in plenty of fun, he is demanding. And as he enters Year 6 in Seattle, he has veteran players who reinforce his philosophies. If newcomers lack toughness, or aren’t used to fighting for everything, they will be overwhelmed. Some adjust. Some flounder.
There’s no such thing as being brought along slowly, not even for the reserves. The roster is too deep. The players are too ambitious.
You must love football to play on this team. You can’t love just the fame, or the money. You can’t just be a gamer. If you have a passion deficiency, you will be exposed.
As an example, Schneider mentioned the Legion of Boom, the Seahawks’ great secondary, where Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are All-Pros, and the standard is for every player to develop into a starting-caliber cornerback or safety.
“You have to have some unique qualities about you to be able to compete with those guys,” Schneider said. “The same thing on the opposite side of the ball when you talk about the receivers now. They’re going against those guys all day, so they can’t blink. They can’t back down, so you have to be able to get those questions answered along the way: ‘OK, this guy’s not going to back down. He’s going to compete every day.’ ”
When you evaluate the Seahawks’ recent drafts, you have to consider the Seahawks Tough factor. They’re so well stocked that it’s difficult for a rookie to come in and find playing time. Justin Britt, who started at right tackle as a rookie last season, is the only player in the past two drafts to start immediately. While the perception has been that the Seahawks’ past two drafts haven’t been as good as the first three of the Carroll/Schneider era, you can’t simply look at the picks and their productivity thus far in a vacuum. You have to consider how impossible it would be for any rookie to beat out some of these players.
But Schneider admits to some miscues. He won’t name specific players because he doesn’t want to embarrass anyone. He will say that “there are a couple of guys” over the past few drafts who are legit NFL players but just couldn’t hack it in the Seahawks’ world. It’s an adjustment that he and his scouts have had to make.
“We’ve learned a ton along the way,” Schneider said.
Now Schneider seeks to improve at identifying players who have the mentality to thrive while competing with the likes of Michael Bennett, Doug Baldwin and Bobby Wagner every day. It’s just another important category on a long checklist. It requires even more research into players, including utilizing the talents of the team’s well-regarded sports psychologist, Dr. Michael Gervais, and others. The Seahawks talk often about being a “mindful” organization. Carroll talks about “relationship-based coaching.” One of the keys to the Seahawks’ success is the ability to decipher what their players are made of, so that they can get the best out of them. That approach extends to potential players.
“There’s no golden wand or anything to just put it in somebody and find out what they have in their heart, what’s going to drive them and what’s going to be their passion,” Schneider said. “You have to be able to have all the information you can possibly have.”
The extra information is vital because you can no longer be a Seahawk without the requisite mental and physical toughness.