Surely Pete Carroll exploited the process in college: When you have the luxury of a lot of starters in place, and some young players get banged up, you redshirt them a year to get healthy and stronger.
In the meantime, they learn the schemes and competitive expectations without the pressure of game preparation every week.
The Seattle Seahawks head into the 2015 season with a deep and talented roster because of the impact of a group of “redshirt freshmen” ready to play important roles.
Safety Dion Bailey (ankle), linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder) and defensive end Cassius Marsh (foot) missed all or significant portions of their rookie seasons in 2014.
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Now, Bailey could be the starter at strong safety if Kam Chancellor continues his holdout (or is traded); Pierre-Louis had an impressive preseason as a backup and special-teams performer, and Marsh is involved in the D-line rotation and also making big plays on special teams.
All three played smart, fast and confidently in the preseason, as did second-year tackle Garry Gilliam, who avoided injury as an undrafted free-agent rookie, but mostly spent the season watching from the sideline before his recent ascension to the starter’s role at right tackle.
“Once they found out the extent of my ankle injury, (GM) John Schneider and Coach Carroll both said that it would be like a redshirt year,” Bailey explained. “I think it helped some of us catch up to the speed of the game. We pretty much had the physical tools, and some of us advanced by learning a lot about the game over the past year.”
To watch was to learn for Bailey, and there were a number of veterans willing to help. “I think guys saw the potential in me and helped me stay in the game mentally so I could play fast when I did get healthy,” Bailey said.
Marsh said he almost couldn’t help but learn from the veterans, as he missed all but five games last season.
“We have a lot of guys who show you what it takes to be a pro,” Marsh said in the locker room after the team’s final exhibition game against Oakland. “There’s plenty of examples for you.”
The rehab process allowed Marsh to spend extra time in the weight room and build up for this season. But being kept off the field resulted in a more visceral development. “Having to be away from the game makes you more hungry,” said Marsh, who plays at an almost frantic pace as it is.
Pierre-Louis mentioned “hunger,” too, as he looked back at last season, but then got wistful about other impacts of watching from the training room. “This is truly a team,” he said. “And when you’re apart from them, when you’re not helping them, it hurts a little bit. It makes you want to get back out there with your brothers and battle with them.”
The linebacker also grasped the reality that careers can’t be built in the training room.
“One of the benefits for me was to think of ways to do whatever I can to make sure I stay on the field,” Pierre-Louis said. “I was a guy with a lot of small muscle strains, and now I’m figuring out a routine to help me prevent the things that are preventable.”
Gilliam said he spent the year getting stronger and learning the schemes and techniques, but also developing the “chemistry” with the other linemen, and learning the subtle things that go into being a professional athlete.
“There’s a lot to the day-to-day of it,” Gilliam said. “How you take care of your body, what you need to eat, and all the things you have to do to be ready to play at a high level.”
And what does he see now from so many of his contemporaries who are ready to contribute?
“It’s extremely important to have that kind of depth,” he said. “You can’t have a big drop-off after the starters; I think that’s what makes a championship team.”