Without prompting, only 50 seconds into his opening comments after the Seahawks' first practice of training camp, Seattle's head coach made his intentions for the 2012 season clear.
"We have high expectations," he said. "We want to do a lot. We want to make this team really a sharp football team and be very, very competitive against anybody we play, wherever we play them. We ain't backing off of that, that's just something that we feel."
And while 50 seconds of talking may seem like a pretty significant chunk of time to you and me, to Carroll that's a little more than clearing his throat. If he needed only that long to get to expectations, to talking about "really doing something special," well then you better believe Carroll realizes that this season, much more so than his first two in Seattle, comes with real expectations of success.
Of course Carroll went into each of his first two seasons here expecting a lot from himself and the team. Before he had coached a game in Seattle, he talked about wanting to own the NFC West, but while the Seahawks fluked their way into a division title with a 7-9 record in 2010, he and everyone else knew that the Seahawks were a long ways from a finished product. That's why he and Schneider tore the team apart, turning over the roster at a dizzying rate.
But now things are different. This is Carroll and Schneider's roster, and much more so than last year or the year before, it is reasonable to expect the Seahawks to take a big step forward. This is the year when 7-9 is no longer acceptable, the year when the Seahawks should be a playoff contender, not because a bad division keeps them in the hunt, but because they are a good team.
"We believe in these guys," Carroll said. "We think these guys are the guys we can go to war with and really do it and do something special. We were really young last year, and that ain't part of the discussion anymore, but we are growing with these guys, and we're fired up about that. ... We just feel really good with the group that we're going to battle with. We've got a long ways to go, but there's a good feeling about that. We've committed to them, we've made statements, we told them we're going to win with the guys that we draft, and I think it's showing up."
The Seahawks come into the training camp feeling good about the defense, and quite frankly they should. They have nearly every starter back from a top-10 defense last season, they added key pieces in hopes of improving the pass rush, and have one of the best secondaries in the league (and we can stop calling it one of the best young secondaries in the league. That qualifier is no longer necessary). That defense alone is good enough for the Seahawks to be mediocre, but what will likely determine if the Seahawks can indeed take the leap forward that Carroll expects is the progress made by the offense, and particularly at quarterback.
Yet even the great variable that could determine the team's fates -- the oft discussed three-man quarterback competition -- shouldn't be an excuse for the Seahawks if they struggle. After all, this unusual approach is Carroll's doing. He could have decided to stick with Tarvaris Jackson, or name Matt Flynn the starter they day he signed with Seattle, but never one to fear the unconventional, Carroll is instead taking a calculated risk. By having this competition linger potentially deep into the preseason, Carroll is knowingly limiting the preparation of whoever ends up winning the job. He's gambling that the long-term benefit of finding the right quarterback outweighs the short-term struggles said competition will likely create for whichever quarterback wins the job.
Carroll likely won't, and shouldn't, fear for his job if the Seahawks don't take a giant leap forward. There are plenty of mitigating factors that can derail a football team's season in a hurry, but even if he isn't on the hot seat, he and his players should come into this training camp expecting more from the season.
"We're going into our third season together," said defensive end Chris Clemons, one of Carroll and Schneider's best acquisitions in their first year. "The first year (Carroll) kind of didn't know what he was getting himself into, and we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into. Everybody has matured. The rookies are not rookies anymore they're all grown now, so everybody is coming out and you've got to have an attitude going into it now. It's different. It's not the same as it was the first year."
It's not the same as it was two years ago, or even last year. Training camp kicked off Saturday not just with the obligatory first-day-of-camp optimism, but with genuine expectations.
"It's taken us some years to get here, we've made some huge steps, and made some declarations of who we're going with and the players we want to play with, and it's exciting to be bringing it together again," Carroll said. "It feels like it's the third year, it feels like it's been three years working to get to this point. We're really looking forward to this camp and making the most out of it, seeing the surprises and building and drawing from the experiences that we've had and what we know about these guys, and really doing something special."
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.
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