INDIANAPOLIS — After finishing 31 seconds from the NFC Championship Game, the Seattle Seahawks aren’t standing pat.
And this week marks the first significant step for the Seahawks to find some key pieces to help bring a Super Bowl victory to Seattle – the start of the annual NFL scouting combine.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider will have a cadre of assistant coaches and personnel staff in Indianapolis. Also there will be Tacoma native and University of Washington product Desmond Trufant, who will be trying to cement his status as a first-round draft choice.
Trufant and 332 other NFL hopefuls are expected to go through medical checks, mentally draining interviews with team decision-makers, and on-field drills at Lucas Oil Stadium in front of hundreds of league scouts and coaches this week.
“Ever since we came in awe’ve been going 100 miles per hour, every day,” said Trufant, who has been training in Arizona in preparation for this week’s activities. “It’s definitely a lot of hard work, but it’s all going to pay off pretty soon.”
Some may question how much value teams receive observing players running around in Spandex shorts in what amounts to an indoor track meet. But for Seattle, the combine has been an important tool in revamping its roster from one of the oldest to one of the youngest in the league.
Twenty-one of the Seahawks’ 27 draft choices since Carroll became coach in 2010 have worked out in Indianapolis, including nine of the 22 starters in 2012.
The Seahawks have the No. 25 overall choice in this year’s draft and 10 selections overall. Carroll said during his season-ending press conference in January that his roster is so deep and talented that it will be tough for all 10 to make the 53-man roster.
Nine players from the 2012 roster will reach free agency on March 12, including defensive linemen Alan Branch and Jason Jones, cornerback Marcus Trufant (Desmond’s older brother), linebacker Leroy Hill and kicker Steven Hauschka.
Players scheduled to become restricted free agents in March include defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, long snapper Clint Gresham and safety Chris Maragos.
Seattle has 20 of 22 starters under contract for 2013, and a little more than $13 million in salary cap space, with the projected cap for the league in 2013 expected to be a little more than $121 million.
So the Seahawks should have the ability to address their top needs – either through the draft or free agency – which include a couple of pass rushers, a run-stuffing defensive tackle, an outside linebacker, a fifth defensive back and possibly a backup quarterback.
PASS RUSHERS WANTED
One of Seattle’s struggles in 2012 was generating a consistent pass rush on third down.
Although Seattle finished with the top scoring defense during the regular season, the Seahawks allowed opponents to convert 38.4 percent of their third-down opportunities, 17th in the league.
Part of the issue late in the season was that Seattle had to play without two of its best pass rushers – Jones and defensive end Chris Clemons.
Both finished the season on the injured reserve list and will have to rehab knee injuries during the offseason. Jones is a free agent, so the Seahawks will have to determine if his lingering health problems are worth the gamble of bringing him back on a multiyear deal.
And Seattle will have to find a replacement for Clemons either through the draft or free agency. Clemons is rehabbing from ACL reconstructive surgery in January, which can take up to a year for full recovery.
According to Rob Rang, senior draft analyst with NFLDraftScout.com, this year’s draft is filled with talented defensive linemen, so Seattle could fill that need in the first round.
“This is a draft class that is very strong at defensive end,” Rang said. “There’s going to be several defensive ends that go off the board long before Seattle is on the clock.”
Names to keep in mind include Texas defensive end Alex Okafor, UCLA defensive lineman Datone Jones, Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams and Georgia nose guard John Jenkins.
Carroll said during his season-ending press conference that he would like to bring in a quarterback with skills similar to starting quarterback Russell Wilson.
Backup Matt Flynn enters 2013 in the second year of a three-year, $19.5 million deal. He’ll make $5.25 million in base salary in 2013, $2 million guaranteed. If traded or let go, Flynn’s contract would count about $4 million against the team’s salary cap.
The Seahawks will try to trade Flynn, hopefully getting feelers from other teams interested in the LSU product in Indianapolis this week. If they find no takers, Flynn likely will be asked to restructure his contract. If he refuses, the Seahawks could release him.
Rang noted the Seahawks could find a development prospect and a potential backup for Wilson in the middle rounds of the draft, with Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, Arizona’s Matt Scott and Miami of Ohio’s Zac Dysert all making some sense for Seattle.
A RED ZONE TARGET
While folks are clamoring for the Seahawks to sign a big-time receiver such as Dwayne Bowe or Mike Wallace in free agency, it likely does not make sense financially for Seattle, with nearly $80 million in salary already allocated to the team’s offense.
Further, Seattle doesn’t throw enough to warrant spending top money in free agency for a big-time receiver who’s going to demand the ball and possibly become an attitude problem in the locker room.
Sidney Rice and Golden Tate combined for 14 touchdown catches during the regular season. Only seven other teams (Green Bay, Denver, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Dallas and Cincinnati) had receiver duos that finished with more combined touchdowns.
Seattle’s three-receiver set with Rice, Tate, slot receiver Doug Baldwin and tight end Zach Miller, provides Wilson with solid options in the passing game.
The place where the Seahawks could use some help is an explosive receiver or pass-catching tight end who can stretch the field or score touchdowns in the red zone.
A players such as Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds has great speed and elusive running ability after the catch, could provide that for Seattle.
Yes, Patterson is raw in terms of his route-running ability and understanding a pro-style offense, but he has a tremendous set of tools to work with and develop, and could be worth the gamble for Seattle if he were to fall to No. 25.
TRUFANT WORKING HARD
Trufant said he could get used to the sunny skies and swaying palm trees of the Arizona desert.
“It’s nice down there,” said Trufant, who has been training at Athletes’ Performance in Scottsdale, Ariz., in preparation for the combine. Trufant said he will travel to Indianapolis on Friday. “I could see myself visiting down here, having a summer home down here.”
Trufant joins Eastern Washington University receiver Brandon Kaufman, former Washington State receiver Marquess Wilson and Idaho kicker Bobby Cowan as the only players with ties to the state of Washington invited to the combine.
The question for most draft analysts after Trufant’s impressive performance at the Senior Bowl last month is how fast he can run the 40-yard dash.
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, who has Trufant rated among his top five cornerbacks, said if Trufant posts an impressive time in the low-4.4 range, then he almost assures himself of being a first-round pick in April.
Trufant’s oldest brother, Marcus Trufant, ran a 4.38 40-yard time at the combine in 2003, and was drafted by the Seahawks with the No. 11 overall pick.
The younger Trufant said he is confident he can perform at a high level this week.
“I’m just handling it like anything else,” he said. “I’m prepared. I’m going to go into the combine with confidence. I put in the work, so I’m going to be ready. All I have to do is run. I’ve been running my whole life. So all I have to do is go out and compete like I know how.”
Any words of wisdom from older brother Marcus?
“He told me to just be confident,” Desmond said. “Be yourself and continue to work, and things will work out. Don’t make the situation bigger than yourself. Just continue to have fun with it and compete.”