RENTON Divided locker room? What divided locker room?
That was the assertion Friday from Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson -- heck, seemingly every Seahawk down to Turf, the team’s resident practice-field dog.
It was the first day since an ESPN story last week quoting anonymous team sources saying Richard Sherman prominent in an defense-versus-offense rift stemming from Seattle’s infamous, last-second loss in Super Bowl 49 to New England in February 2015.
Carroll on Friday called last week’s ESPN piece an “old story” from years, plural, ago.
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The writer of the inflammatory story, ESPN’s Seth Wickersham, this week stood by his story. That is not a surprise. Any journalist who’s worked for more than a day and has an employer is not in the business by completely fabricating stories from afar. I wrote here back in December Sherman’s anger and that defense-offense rift.
Seahawks Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett has posted on Twitter that Wickersham’s story was “trash” and belongs on TMZ.
Carroll was almost as colorful and forceful Friday.
“We’re in great shape. This locker room’s in great shape,” the coach said, his outlook as characteristically sunny as the brilliant day along Lake Washington.
“Everybody’s pulling for one another. Whatever you guys think may be otherwise, it isn’t. We are in great shape right now.”
Minutes after Friday’s third organized-team-activity practice (the first one open to the media this offseason) ended, Sherman walked off the field with Seattle general manager John Schneider. At the end of a couple minutes of walking and talking in what appeared to be amicable fashion, the three-time All-Pro cornerback and the GM who talked this spring about fielding trade offers for him hugged.
Asked specifically about the story’s assertion Carroll treats Wilson differently as the quarterback than any other player, and that that is part of what angers Sherman and the defense, Carroll’s tone strengthened.
“I’m not going to treat everybody the same and overlook whatever is going on with their individual ways. I’m not doing that.” Carroll said. “And you’ve watched it. You don’t think it’s working, then too bad. I think it’s working pretty darn well. And it’s the best way that we know how to do it.”
Carroll said that last paragraph with a forcefulness, almost defiance, that is rare for him. You can see it here, in the final 30 seconds or so:
Asked if the ESPN story was accurate, Carroll said: “I think it was an old story that -- I don’t even know where all the stuff came from. I will say this: I’ve said to you guys before that the big wins are just as hard as the big losses, if you let it be. And our first Super Bowl (the rout of Denver at the end of the 2013 season to win Seattle’s first NFL title) was a challenge to get back from. Our second Super Bowl was a challenge to get back from. That’s just how it is; it is that impacting. And if you notice, most teams don’t make it back. The odds go that you don’t make it back to where you’ve been...
“I’m proud of where we are, and how we’ve handled our past. That article makes reference to something that’s, you know, it’s years old now. And this time of year, you guys want to keep talking about it you can. It’s not a big deal to us, at all. It isn’t an issue to us, at all.”
Wilson was in lock-step with his coach.
Wilson walked along the side of the practice field at one point Friday with Hall-of-Fame quarterback Warren Moon. The Seahawks’ radio analyst this week told TuneIn online radio of the team that employs him: “They are still having a hangover from two years ago, if you can believe it or not, about losing that Super Bowl in the last minute with the interception on the 1-yard line.”
At one point in their on-field chat Friday, Wilson and Moon shared a laugh.
Carroll’s response to whether he showed favoritism to Wilson, Seattle’s $87.6 million franchise quarterback the coach drafted in the third round of 2012, was basically: Of course I do.
“I show favoritism to every one of these guys, you know? Every one of them,” Carroll said. “I’m trying to figure each guy out and help them out the best I can. And I think we are doing OK doing that, you know. Each person is different, whereas they have to fit into the team, they have to fit into the expectations of the team and I have to make sure I hold them to that. I treat those guys as well as I can to what they need and how it fits them. In terms of Russell, we raised Russell from a neophyte in this program, and he’s done an extraordinary job with us. He’s a great competitor and a great worker. And I can say that about Doug (Baldwin) and Richard (Sherman) and Bobby (Wagner) and K.J. (Wright). But they are all different people. They are all unique. And they deserve the individual attention that they get. And if I didn’t do that I’m not reaching in to help them be the best that they can be.
“And I’m not going to treat everybody the same and overlook whatever is going on with their individual ways. I’m not doing that. And you’ve watched it. You don’t think it’s working, then too bad. I think it’s working pretty darn well. And it’s the best way that we know how to do it.
“In essence, I guess, things are a lot different than maybe you guys think. ... In here, and with us and what we are doing, I think we are in marvelous position. That doesn’t mean everybody’s on the same page exactly right all the time. I’m not either. We’ve got to work at it. It’s a challenge. It’s relationships, and working with people.”
I asked Carroll how much discord he had to go through last season in the locker room.
“Nothing,” the coach said. “Nothing. It wasn’t even a...it wasn’t even a question. I don’t know if it ever even came up.
“But I will say this -- and I’m getting myself in trouble saying this -- it’s never going away from me,” Carroll said of the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, when Wilson threw an interception from the 1-yard line in the final seconds. “The first one (the Super Bowl 48 win over Denver the previous postseason) is never going away from me. It’s affected me for the rest of the life. And the next one affected me for the rest of my life. I’m OK with that. Just got to keep goin’. I’ve got to manage my ways so I can keep going forward. I don’t say it affected me in a negative way. It’s just, it’s a big experience. It’s a lot to go through. It’s a big experience. And you’ve got to put it in the right place so the next step you take can be the best step that you take. And that’s what we are working at doing.”
Bennett wasn’t at OTAs this week, which is nothing new for him. He rarely participates in the voluntary work. Those Seahawks that are here are standing behind their coach’s unshakable assertions their locker room is fine -- and, in Wilson’s words, a team as successful as they’ve been during five consecutive playoff appearances and two ending in Super Bowls couldn’t possibly be as fractured as nationally depicted.
“We keep winning,” Wilson said. “I don’t think teams do that if they are truly divided.”