So no, Pete Carroll isn't all that impressed with how far the Seahawks have come in his third year as head coach. It's not that Carroll doesn't like the way his team is playing right now, winning seven of eight in the second half to finish the regular season with an 11-5 record, he just wishes he could have figured out a way to make this happen sooner.
"I don't feel like that," Carroll said when asked if the Seahawks are ahead of schedule. "We just wish so much that we had got it done last year. We didn't capture it quickly enough. It just didn't come around like we wanted it to. But we'll take it.
"We'll take it where we are. It's been three terrific years for us in retooling the program and the roster and the staff and getting everything right. We really feel the momentum in the youth and the hopefulness for the future is there."
But even if Carroll's competitive nature kept him from ever accepting that rebuilding the Seahawks would take time, it is pretty clear that, as they head into the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, the Seahawks have become legitimate Super Bowl contenders faster than anyone should have reasonably expected.
When Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over, Seattle had won just nine games in the previous two seasons as age and injuries took their toll. Carroll and Schneider immediately began overhauling the roster, and while the Seahawks did manage to stumble into the playoffs with a 7-9 record in 2010, they were a long, long way from being a finished product. The Seahawks weren't going to apologize for that playoff berth, nor should they have, but looking back, Carroll can admit that the team heading to Washington D.C. this weekend is much different than his last playoff team.
"Yeah, a little bit," he said with a chuckle. "Jeez man, we were seven-and-13 or something? I don't know what we were. Yeah, it's a little better."
Just how different are the 2012 Seahawks than the 2010 version? Of the 53 players currently on the roster, 34 have been acquired since the 2010 season, including 10 of 22 starters (11 if Malcolm Smith gets the starting nod at weakside linebacker over Leroy Hill on Sunday). Considering that seven other current starters were acquired before the 2010 season, and that only seven players remain from the roster Carroll and Schneider inherited, it's hard not to be impressed with how far the Seahawks have come in a relatively short time, going 11-5 with a roster that features 32 players who are in their first, second or third year in the league.
"We're just so much deeper now and we've raised these guys in the program and I just think there's a common feel that we're on the same page," Carroll said. "We've hit on it pretty good here at the end of the season. I think that's a big part of it. They understand what's expected of them and they're willing to uphold the standards on a regular basis to stay in touch with those expectations. We're young and we're fast and we're tough and we've created a physical nature about us that we're really proud of. It goes from offense to defense to special teams. We're just going to try to keep getting better. We've got a long ways to go."
One of the most obvious and important differences for Seattle this year has been the addition of quarterback Russell Wilson. Even teams like the Seahawks, who pride themselves in running the ball and playing stout defense, are much more dangerous when a top-flight quarterback is added to the mix.
Despite being a rookie who most figured would be backing up Matt Flynn this season, Wilson has developed to the point that he was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in the second half of the seasons Not one of the best rookie quarterbacks, one of the best quarterbacks, period.
And Wilson's value is only magnified by the fact that Seattle found him in the third round of the draft. Teams across the NFL spend tens of millions of dollars and first-round picks hoping to find a franchise quarterback, and the Seahawks managed to find one after they already had landed an impact pass rusher and a starting middle linebacker in that same draft.
"Of course, the quarterback situation being so strong right now with Russell playing like he's playing, and Matt there, too, that's a really important concern to be handled at this point," Carroll said.
Wilson's impact on the team has been the most noticeable difference this season, but over the course of the past three years, the most valuable asset for the Seahawks might be the relationship between Carroll and Schneider. When Tod Leiweke, the Seahawks CEO at the time, pitched the idea of a "fantastic collaboration" between coach and GM after Schneider was hired, it sounded a bit too idealistic for the cutthroat world of the NFL. Yet that's exactly what the Seahawks have with Carroll and Schneider, and their close relationship, the trust between them, has been instrumental as they rebuilt the roster, from the trades they made to get players like Chris Clemons and Marshawn Lynch in 2010 to last spring when they ignored conventional wisdom and drafted a too-short quarterback earlier than expected.
"We have a tremendous relationship," Carroll said. "... John's been incredible. He's had tremendous freedom, and I trust him in every way and he trusts me in every way, and it allows us to really function at a high level and function quickly, and be involved in everything."
Drafting well, finding a quarterback, a strong coach-G.M. relationship, it has all contributed the remaking of the Seahawks in Carroll and Schneider's image. And even if the leap his team made this year didn't happen quickly enough for Carroll's liking, the Seahawks go into this postseason looking like a team that has found its stride, and done so ahead of schedule.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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