RENTON The summary of the Seahawks’ pre-draft press conference with general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll on Tuesday:
▪ This draft has the deepest pool of talent from rounds one through seven since they arrived to run Seattle in 2010
▪ They sure are glad and “secure” to have a franchise quarterback while much of the league scrambles in search of one
▪ “We’re not gonna tell you a thing.”
That last one was from Carroll. With a wry smile that belied how true that was.
The Seahawks have made an art form out of hiding their true draft intentions while often nailing what many other teams are going to do. That’s been a huge part of their success in later draft rounds and in trading to stockpile picks each year. That’s what my News Tribune colleague Dave Boling, who was here at Seahawks’ headquarters with me Tuesday, will be writing for Wednesday’s TNT.
For all the guessing on whether the Seahawks are going to use their 26th-overall pick in Thursday’s first round on a much-needed offensive lineman, an athletic defensive lineman or even perhaps a cornerback or a running back, I would not be surprised if Schneider pulls out of the first round yet again with another trade down.
Schneider said Tuesday a big reason Seattle traded out of the first round last year with New Orleans to get star tight end Jimmy Graham was th,e Seahawks only had 16 players in 2015 they deemed worthy of a first-round pick.
As for 2016, the Seahawks presumably have more than 16 pegged as first-round talent. The GM said the team had 200 names on its draft board before its medical staff got involved and began vetting the list. That’s about 70 more than in a normal year. We’ll find out Thursday if that deeper pool means the Seahawks believe more than 26 prospects are worthy of a first-round choice. If Seattle trades out of the first round for the fourth consecutive draft, the answer will be no.
The one other bit of news was Carroll saying that “everything’s going well” with the recoveries of Graham (patellar knee surgery from November injury) and new No. 1 running back Thomas Rawls (broken ankle and torn ligaments from December). The coach again stopped short of providing any timeline on their returns to the field, saying each has to get back to the team this summer for its staff to begin assessing where they are and still need to get in rehabilitation from their major injuries.
If you are so intrepid, here is all of what they said in a jovial, roughly 30-minute talk Tuesday:
Tuesday, April 26 pre-draft press conference at Seahawks headquarters
John Schneider opening statement: “Thanks for coming out. Appreciate you guys. This is our seventh draft here now together so this is a big deal. Catalina Wine Mixer. Danny what movie (only media member to ever wear a bow tie answers “Step Brothers”). Nice. Good job. A long process. Eleven-month process started last May down in California with our meetings with national scouting and really this weekend is the culmination of it. A lot of man power, a lot of hours put into this. A lot of people to thank. Want to thank our training staff, our medical staff, our sports science group, obviously our pro scouting department headed up by Dan Morgan and all of our college scouts and area guys that have been boots on the ground in the spring and in the fall and all throughout the fall and spring workouts here leading up to this. Obviously coach Carroll and the coaching staff for all of their hard work and their input and I’d especially like to thank a couple of people in particular, Ed Dodds, Matt Berry, Scott Fitterer and Trent Kirchner for the long nights, the long weekends together getting this thing ready.
“The draft is we have already seen two huge trades doing at the top of the draft so I think we are going to see a lot of really fun stuff, exciting time. Exiting time for us, the players are here in the building now there is a great vibe and we are ready to get to work and get this thing going and we are just excited to get going. If anyone wants to fire away. …’’
Schneider on this being one of the deeper drafts since he has been here and how often a draft has this kind of a load: “That’s a great question. I think so this is our seventh and it’s to us it’s the most impressive one so far in terms of the sheer numbers of players. There are 100 juniors, so.’’
Schneider on how that sets up with the picks they have, four in the top 100: “It hopefully sets up well. A lot of hard work a lot of prayers and we hope that everything falls in our favor.’’
Schneider on how having a quarterback has enabled the team to focus on everything else in the draft: “It’s freed us up to do a number of things in free agency that we normally wouldn’t have early on based on where he was acquired so. We did a new deal with him last year so moving forward we have to have a clearer plan in place.’’
Carroll on how having Russell Wilson leaves the much of the league wishing they had a franchise QB, too: “It is a great relief to have a quarterback has has played for us and knows our system and knows us we know him and that has been so effective. We are lucky to have Russell. It’s a secure feeling and we like it and we are fortunate to be in this position.’’
Is there a degree of stealth in the whole draft process and is that intentional?
Schneider: “No, we want to give everybody all the information we possibly can. … really it’s a credit to both our coaching staff and our personnel staff.We are a little bit unusual here in that we have talked about no walls since we got together and so we have everybody in that room together they can see it, they know where specific players are, yet we have not had situations where people have jumped ahead of us to take a player where it just completely crushed us or something like that. Now people have drafted players right ahead of us along the way but usually you see the things that you are talking about when people trade up to get right ahead of you and do that so I think it’s a credit to everybody in that room and we have specific rules for our room.’’
Carroll: “I think stealth about nails it. ‘’
On if there are any positions this draft is deep at:
JS: “We think it’s strong all the way through. We talked about this in FLA – there doesn’t seem to be as many huge dropoffs along the way. There are a couple positions with dropoffs, but not as bad as it’s been in the past.”
Trading down more appealing this year?
JS: “We’ve traded up a couple of times.”
PC: “We’ve traded up and down in the draft.”
JS: “We’ve put a long of work into this draft and have a lot of of confidence in it . . .”
PC: “We’re not gonna tell you a thing.”
JS: “If our board says we have several players there, it’s a matter of trying to figure out if you have two or three compared to that one, and that’s with our coaches involved we can figure out what type of role that specific player will play for us.”
Groundwork ahead of trading down?
JS: “Yeah. Between Pete and myself and all the guys in the building, we have a lot of different connections with different teams. We talk to a lot of people ahead of Thursday, talking to every team and general manager about what they want to do – some people want to go back, some want to go up. There’s not a ton shared right now, but there’s a couple people we have relationships with that know exactly what they want to do.”
PS: “It’s relationships. John’s been working with these guys for years. He knows who he talks with and deals with.”
Changed from 2010 where now you’re trying to maintain?
PC: “It’s been harder to make our team.”
JS: “It’s been harder to make our team since the ’13 draft, ‘14 draft. Some drafts are stronger than others – how many of these guys really have a legitimate chance of making our team? It’s been harder for us to figure out ho has a legitmate chance to make our team.”
When did you decide to not committ big bucks to the offensive line?
PC: “Did we decide that?”
JS: “We spent a lot of money on the other side of the ball. We’ve had to figure out that we had specific players on the other side of the ball, and a quarterback we had to take care of, so that was our primary plan. We knew that in signing guys like Sowell and Webb to contracts that are more like, ‘C’mon in, let’s get to know each other, prove-it’ kind of contracts, shorter-term contracts. We knew we would be headed in that direction. But specifics of (money), I can’t get into that. I choose not to.”
On the impact of having younger linemen:
Pete: "We can feel it a little bit in transition in the early part of the season. It was interesting last year, we suffered early and were struggling, and the second half of the season we turned things around. Those guys came together, kind of like we kept saying, we hoped it would happen earlier but it didn't. You are faced with some of that, so there is a learning curve. There's an opportunity for guys to grow with you and all of that. We're kind of somewhat accustomed to that. We don't like it like that, but it's like that. We'd like to pick up where we left off, we did a really good job in the second half of the season. All of our numbers switched, from sacks to third downs to completion percentage to touchdowns, everything. So we'd like to pick up where we left off. We don't know if we're going to be able to do that, but we've seen that over the years, we've seen that battle."
On having a more experienced QB helping a young offensive line:
Pete: "Without question he can. He is the best he's ever been, he's the most versatile he's ever been. He can command the calls more so than ever, so he can correct things that might not get seen by a guy or might not get communicated properly and he can catch that. He'll be the best guy doing that on our team. It's important that we're able to grow in that area, and we're going to rely on Russell to do a nice job there."
On whether it's harder to evaluate the offensive line the past 10 years because of the prevalence of the spread offense:
John: "Absolutely. It's in grade schools now. When you go to colleges it's hard for them to find high school kids, you have to bring them along and teach them. There's a lot of kids playing both ways, defensive line, offensive line, and defensive line is just a little bit sexier and they're going to go that route. So those numbers come down. That's why you've seen us in the past try to make a couple of these conversions because you can't just go out and pick them off a tree in the back yard."
Pete: "The style of play is different. There'll be guys we're looking at who have never been in a stance before, they've always been in two-point stances. So there's transitions that have to take place. In the end you've seen in the last couple years some strong adjustments by college offensive coordinators to adjust the way guys are coming off the ball. They're not as aggressive and physically-oriented as we like them to be. I looked at a couple guys this week and I couldn't find a running play where a guy came off the ball and knocked a guy off the football. There's not even a play in the game. So it's hard to evaluate what a guy's going to be like. We learn to, but it's not the same as it's always been."
On if it's less of an issue converting a guy from defense to offense:
Pete: "It depends on the guy and how much background he had in high school. It depends. We've experimented enough that we know there are some guys who are more apt to make the transition quicker than others. Some guys don't make it. I don't know if it's more likely, but like John says we're just looking for the right athletes. We're certainly always tuned in, and he's done a great job over the years figuring out guys who have a chance. Not many teams see it that way. And Tom's been really good at experimenting with us and making some sense of that."
John: "In all those positions you have to have coaches who are willing to dive in and buy into the guy. That's 80 percent of the battle."
On whether the switch to edge rushers on defense has changed the way you look at offensive linemen:
Pete: "The defenses are much more oriented to guys who can run. The pass rushes on the edge aren't as big as they used to be, That's because you need more speed not he field because the ball is thrown so much and guys have to chase and pursue. You don't need guys to dig in and knock offensive linemen back when they're standing up and not even coming off the football. There has been an adapting to more speed oriented guys, strong safeties and linebackers crossing over more than ever before, that kind of stuff."
Favorite reaction from a player?
PC: "Oh man. I don't know about a favorite reaction. John, you may have. This is their entire life has been has been named at this moment. And there's great stories and there's some great heartaches, too, when it doesn't come through. So it's a big day and we try to respect that the best we possibly can. ... Might have been K.J. (Wright) when he was at graduation (at Mississippi State) and we're calling him up and he's whispering to us on the phone 'cause he didn't want to disrupt graduation."
JS: "We didn't think he was very excited to be a Seahawk. Guy's getting his degree."
Remember greater difference in styles as far as college systems and style needed for pros?
PC: "No, this is the most ever. As it evolves, there's more throwing game than ever. But changing players for us -- and John and I have really agreed on this tremendously -- in college we did all the time. We took guys from one side of the ball and moved them all over the place from their high school days. I'm really in tune with John's thoughts about that, and we try to make the most of those situations. Some coaches I really think wouldn't be. We just had a good background in it. So it's more common maybe or more accepted on our staff. Our guys are really wide open for the challenge of it as much as anything."
Is there a position in college that's benefited from the changes in style in college football?
JS: “Defensive line. It's become harder for receivers. It's harder to evaluate receivers based on their route tree.”
PC: “More of them, though. There's more of them. A lot of teams playing with four receivers. We see a lot of little guys playing to fill those spots and all that. The nickel players, there's more nickel players now than before, kind of hybrid DBs and linebackers kind of showing up that we have to figure out.”
JS: (wide receivers): “Have to project them as route runners, right?”
PC: “Yeah, because the concepts of the route principles are much different than what we run at times. So we'll see guys that were running kind of an option principle where they're just going to get open and they stop in areas that we just won't function like that very well. John has to project is the guy capable of picking things up and learning and adapting and how quickly can he do that. Sometimes you don't have great information because they haven't done it their whole career."
Clemons and Browner?
JS: “With Chris, last year they wanted him to be a little bit more of a situational pass rusher. They ended up playing him more than they wanted to. We recognized that, you could kind of see it on tape. But he's been here, he's got a specific attitude about him. Losing Bruce, some of those reps that Bruce was taking as a situational rusher, that's really kind of how we see Chris. With Brandon, it was really a situation where the last two places he's been -- New England and then New Orleans -- he's been a strong leader for them. When you have to make those decisions to move on from a guy because you can't afford him and then yet they still want to come back to your family, your team, your organization, that's big for us. So it was a way for us to accentuate that. Now how we use him, that's still to be determined."
PC: "Both guys are really special competitors and they're really tough-minded guys and we loved them when we had them, we hated when we had to lose them. So the opportunity arose and John figured it out and jumped at it. Both guys come back, and they bring something special to us. Clemons is a really adept rusher, and he'll be good to help our young guys learn, too. If we can keep it in the mode that we want to and the numbers of plays we want to, we think we can really keep him effective. Brandon's got some special skills as we know, and he's very aggressive coverage-wise and makes things happen. So we're going to do some different things with him you'll see in the future. We have a nice plan for it. So we're excited about both those guys coming back. Fun to have in the building."
JS: "When you get those guys, guys like this, I would say four or five years ago we wouldn't be able to do something like this. But with Sam Ramsden and his staff on the sports science group working with our coaches and the trainers and strength and conditioning guys, we're able to track them a little bit better and monitor how we're using them, how they're practicing, and can we help them where they are at physically."
How do you weigh best player available to team need?
JS: “I probably have to clear this up because I said that we draft for need at some time. Basically, how we do it is we don’t grade for the league, we grade for our team. And when you do that, that represents what your board ends up looking like. You’re going to have specific needs at different positions based on people that you’ve lost on free agency or if a guy that you drafted isn’t coming through at a specific position. It’s really a combination of the two. This isn’t something we developed. This is Dick Steinberg, Ron Wolf, Al Davis. We’re just carrying it on.”
PC: “It’s really specific, our board is. We don’t look at how he would fit in to the draft projections at all. That stuff doesn’t even register. John is so far in depth with connecting what we’re hoping to get as coaches and what fits in our organizational thinking so our board may look different than other teams. We don’t really care. We have it the way we like it. What John has done a fantastic job of is projecting where guys will go so we can get the guys that we want. The coaches are committed to it. We’re really connected on this so it’s a fascinating process. We wish we could take you inside, but we can’t.”
JS: “It’s a very good question because it’s hard for the scouts during the fall. But we continue to work the whole process through the spring. So when they’re out in the fall, they’re still comparing them to the players that were on our team and when they were here studying the team in training camp, working as much film study as they can do during the season.”
PC: “We do have a long-standing philosophy: We’re going to try to find the special traits the players have and accentuate that and coach to their strengths whenever we can. In essence, we recruit to that, we draft to that, but we’ll see things differently maybe than other people. We won’t try to make a guy be the program guy. HE’s going to be what he’s best suited to do and situated that way, and then we’ll adapt him as he gains confidence and gains playing time with us. We play young guys early, we want them to be a part of getting in there and developing, so we can figure them out and bring them along quickly so when we get into the second half of the season, guys are actively apart of our team. Tyler Lockett is a really good example of that. We spot played him early on and worked him in there. We brought him along to where he was a really big part of what we were doing in the second half of the season. We try to do that with all of our players. We have a specific way we’re looking at guys and try to make the most of it.”
Do you have to then assess what other teams’ needs are so you can project who they might take?
PC: “Let me answer that for you: He’s great at this. This is what John does. The whole process is trying to figure all of that information and taking all of that in so he can be the expert on where these guys are going to go. It’s a thrill to watch how the draft comes off because we are anticipating things happening and we feel pretty confident we’re going to have a handle on it. I love the way John has been able to do that.”
PC: “You wouldn’t have said it that way so I’ll give you some love.
How far out does recruiting undrafted players begin?
JS: “Well definitely after the draft, it’s a scramble. It’s fun. It’s a blast; it really is. There’s a lot of communication and collaboration between the coaches and the scouts in recruiting the guy. We have about four guys that are negotiating contracts the whole time., But really it’s a credit to all of our scouts because they feel very strongly about having relationships with these guys. So they can just call them up on the phone. We’ll be sitting in meetings and they’ll just call them and talk to them and just check in on them. We’re really honest with people, like, ‘You know what, your best chance is to go here and then we’ll try to get you a little bit later if you get let go or something like that.’ Kasen’s a perfect example. Kasen went to Cincinnati (Carroll: Kevin, too). Yeah, Kevin Smith. Both guys that we were like, ‘Yeah, we’d like to have you but this is probably a better spot for you.’ We agree and they moved on. But they were both very excited to come back because our scouts had that relationship with them and they felt like they could come back here and have a shot.”
John, has your phone ever died during the draft?
JS: No, it’s pretty close right now actually. No. That’s a good question.”
HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR VIEW ON THE VALUE OF THE FIRST-ROUND PICK BECAUSE OF YOUR SUCCESS IN LATER ROUNDS AND IN SIGNING UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS?
JS: “No, no. It’s just where you are picking in the round and how you value those picks. Those selections, a lot of times, history will tell you that on average the 20th player to the 40th player you are going to get about the same level of participation and the appropriating scale grade, so it’s just a matter of what that specific draft looks like. Last year, with being able to acquire Jimmy (Graham), it was knowing we had only 16 guys in the first round. And so for us it was, OK, maybe New Orleans had more than us specifically at the time. It really depends on the year. And you learn things every year. At the end of the draft you go back and do a self-scout on what your process looked like. So you are constantly learning.”
DOES THE 5TH-YEAR OPTION FOR 1st-ROUND PICKS COMPLICATE THINGS WHEN TRYING TO REACH AN EXTENSION?
JS: “Yeah, it can. … That’s negotiation stuff. I hope you can respect that. We don’t want to tip our hand in any way.”
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO KNOW IF A DRAFT PICK PANS OUT?
JS: “I think 3-4 years. I’ve heard people say three years, two to three years. I know Ron Wolf, my old boss, would say three years. Tom Landry would said two – if he’s not a player by his second year or going into his third year … So people usually say three years. Now, we don’t wait, Pete and I don’t wait, on that. If we, like, don’t think a guy is going to be a player than we aren’t going to stop the machine of keep trying to move this thing forward and being a championship-caliber football team, just because we are so prideful, do you know what I mean?”
HOW IMPORTANT IS THAT TO ADMIT YOUR MISTAKES?
JS: “The most important thing is knowing your team.”
PC: “I think it’s really important to be straight up and do the right thing. A lot of times you have to – whether it’s an admission of a mistake or not is not the issue – it’s are you doing the right thing for the team? And that’s kind of how … John brought that to us and we’ve kind of made decisions based off that throughout.”
JS: “We are constantly trying to fix things, you know. We are constantly trying to find how to teach the guy better, how to get them to take care of their body better. What are we going to do? When we run out of ways to help a player then it’s not going to work.”
DOES THAT GO INTO DRAFTING A PLAYER WHEN LOOKING AT GUYS ALREADY ON THE ROSTER AND WAITING FOR HIM TO DEVELOP VS. DRAFTING SOMEONE ELSE AT THE SAME POSITION?
PC: “It just depends. Not every time, but sometimes that certainly makes a difference. That’s why we say the evaluation process never ends. You keep working. That’s when you are trying to figure out if a guy is coming to us, and then once he’s here. You just keep working and working and eventually you get to the moment that it makes sense and then you make a decision and do what you have to do after that.”
JS: “It goes back to that need question, right, because you are weighing your team at that time. So it’s important for us to talk. It’s important for us to meet with our coaches and see how they feel about everybody at their position, because they are the ones spending every, single day with them.”
IS THERE A PARTICULAR PART OF THE DRAFT THAT IS YOUR FAVORITE?
JS: “Hmmm…Yeah, I think that sixth, seventh (round), free-agency part is a blast. Because the draft room kind of changes. We make it kind of like, not a completely different room, but kind of like the stock market, the floor of the stock market or something. Everyone has specific roles and everyone just gets after it. And everyone wants to put Pete on the phone because he is the ultimate recruiter, right?”
PC: “John always says, ‘You can tell a trapper by his furs.’”
JS: “I don’t say that.”
ANY UPDATES TO JIMMY GRAHAM’S AND THOMAS RAWLS’ RECOVERIES?
PC: “Everything’s going well, yeah. Everything’s really in good shape. It’s just when they push to get back we are going to have to see what the timeline is, you know, so we can tell. It’s going good.”
WHAT ARE THE CLUES FROM SCOUTING THAT TELLS YOU, AS A COACH, “THIS GUY IS GOING TO BE GOOD” SOON?
PC: “A lot of it is communication. Communicating clearly and making sense of it. It starts there. Being able to figure things out and talk in a way that helps them. That’s where it starts.”
JS: “Coachability, obviously. That’s where it starts. Body type. Easiest thing to do is to talk about what a player can’t do. That’s the easiest thing to do.”