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Flexibility of coaching staff helps Seahawks in draft

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By John Boyle
Herald Writer
RENTON -- At some point in this week's draft, Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider and his scouting department may find themselves enamored with a player who, while talented, doesn't quite fit Seattle's scheme.
And even if said player doesn't fit the exact mold of what the Seahawks did at that particular position a year ago, they just might go ahead and draft him anyway.
"This staff is willing to -- if we see some cool qualities -- they're not saying, 'No, this is our scheme and this is what it has to be,'" Schneider said. "If we really like the guy and everybody agrees on it, then they're willing to go for it."
The flexibility of Seattle's coaching staff Schneider is speaking of, particularly on defense, has been a factor in previous drafts, as well as the overall shaping of the team under Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll.
If Carroll had prototypical safety dimensions in his mind from which he would not stray, there is pretty much no chance the Seahawks would have ended up with one undersized safety and one supersized one in the 2010 draft.
But Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor both represented Seattle in the Pro Bowl last winter and are cornerstones of the franchise.
And if Seattle wasn't willing to think outside the box when it came to its defensive line, Red Bryant would probably have been cut in 2010 instead of turning into a key component in the team's run defense.
"We want to have enough flexibility to be able to embrace and encompass a guy's uniqueness," Carroll said. "... We're going to find a way to fit that guy in if we think he's that special. You've seen it in really good examples -- 'Deuce' (Thomas) and with Kam Chancellor. They couldn't be on more opposite ends of the spectrum, physically, but both those guys are flourishing in our system because we're asking them to do things that they can do. So if we said, 'We want big safeties' we would have never taken 'Deuce', and vice versa. I would like to think that's a real strength of ours and it's an openness to try and find a way to get a guy on our club that gives us something that other people can't."
So even though plenty of people have an idea of what needs the Seahawks have and what type of players they may be looking for to fill those needs, don't be surprised if a pick or two leaves you wondering just how the Seahawks will make that player fit in.
"We might surprise you a little bit with some of our thoughts in that regard," Carroll said.
And while the Seahawks' growth has been, in part, a result of the flexibility of the coaching staff, just as important has been their willingness to put young players into important roles, even those who were taken in later rounds or not drafted at all.
Cornerback Richard Sherman was a fifth round pick, yet finished the year as a starter who looks to have a very bright future in Seattle's secondary.
Linebacker K.J. Wright was a fourth-round pick, but was given a shot to beat out former No. 4 overall pick Aaron Curry; he did, and Curry was traded to the Raiders.
Wide receiver Doug Baldwin wasn't drafted, but the free agent not only made the roster, he became Seattle's leading receiver.
Part of Seattle's success in the later rounds of the draft has been shrewd talent evaluation, but another factor has been the willingness to give those guys a legitimate shot to play.
"We're a group that takes a lot of pride from the fourth round down," Schneider said. "We think there's a lot of really neat things that can happen in there and it's all about being able to provide -- again, a coaching staff that is willing to put a guy out there and let him compete -- that's a very attractive thing. So it's identifying some of those unique qualities and having the faith that the coaching staff's going to give the guy a shot."
None of this is to say that the Seahawks have come up with a strategy for a flawless draft. Yes there have been successes, but Carroll and Schneider have missed on other players too. 2011 fifth-round pick Mark Legree, a safety, was cut before the start of the season. 2010 fourth-rounder E.J. Wilson, a defensive end, was released two months into his first season.
But while the Seahawks, like every team, will undoubtedly make mistakes in this week's draft, what they won't do is allow themselves to get pigeonholed by their offensive and defensive schemes.
"This coaching staff has the ability -- which is great for personnel staff -- to have a broad vision," Schneider said. "They don't get locked into, 'This is exactly what we are.' If we feel strongly about a player they get excited about it. They want to draw it up. They want to show you what the guy can do."
Recently acquired linebacker Barrett Ruud could eventually end up being Seattle's starting middle linebacker -- depending on what the Seahawks do in this week's draft -- but first he has to recover from injuries to his groin, knee and shoulder. .
"We've got to get him healthy first," Carroll said. "He's not healthy yet. When he gets full speed he can play -- he's started six years in the NFL at (middle linebacker). ... But it's going to take him a little while before he's right. He's still recovering."
Guard Deuce Lutui, who signed last month, will work at right guard, Carroll said, while Paul McQuistan is the leading candidate to take over at left guard following the release of Robert Gallery. Lutui will most likely fill a backup role, but could see first-team action early in offseason workouts if John Moffitt isn't fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his 2011 season.
Herald Writer John Boyle:
Story tags » Seahawks

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