By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — Over three days, nine draft picks and nine undrafted free agent signings, the Seahawks hope they just acquired some of the building blocks for sustained success in the future.
Unfortunately for those of you waiting to see Paul Richardson become a home-run threat at receiver, or to see Cassius Marsh sacking quarterbacks, or to see freakishly-athletic linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis making plays all over the field, the future just might be the key words in the above sentence.
A few of the players Seattle acquired over the weekend indeed will make an immediate impact. One or two might even win a starting job. However, one of the realities of being the best team in football is that it’s just really darn tough to crack Seattle’s roster, let alone starting lineup.
As long as this team is coached by Pete Carroll, competition will be the central theme, and these rookies will have every chance to earn jobs and playing time. But, and this is very good problem from the team’s perspective, it’s a hell of a lot harder to win those competitions when you’re up against players who just led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl victory.
“The competition is more heightened now,” Carroll said. “It’s harder for guys to make it, but it’s the same thing we’ve been doing, and it’s awesome because they can feel the push from the new guys, and these new guys get a great shot with us. We throw them in there and (the returning players) have to deal with them. It’s kind of how the design is set up.”
This isn’t to say that none of these rookies will make an impact.
Justin Britt will compete for the starting job at right tackle. Richardson has rare speed that could force the Seahawks to create a role for him even if he can’t win a starting job. Marsh will have a chance to work his way into a pass-rush rotation.
And the Seahawks rave about linebacker Pierre-Louis. Todd Brunner, Seattle’s northeast area scout, compared him to San Francisco All-Pro NaVorro Bowman, whom Brunner scouted while working for the 49ers. So, Pierre-Louis has a shot to break through even with the talent Seattle already has at the position, especially when you consider the Seahawks’ success rate when drafting linebackers, and that for the team, a fourth-round pick is a pretty big investment in that position.
However, as last year’s draft class showed, the Seahawks are well past the point of drafting a player because they need him to step in and take over an open job. General manager John Schneider has admitted on several occasions that in 2010, they were going to take the best left tackle, no matter who that was. A year later, the Seahawks used their first two picks on offensive linemen, and O-line coach Tom Cable was naming James Carpenter and John Moffitt starters before they arrived in Seattle.
The Seahawks took receivers with two of their first four picks this draft not because they absolutely needed them, but because Richardson was in their opinions the best player available, and because they had Kevin Norwood sitting alone on their draft board by the time their second fourth-round pick rolled around.
“We didn’t go into this thing saying we have to have a receiver,” Schneider said. “It wasn’t like our first draft. Our first draft was like, ‘We have to have a left tackle, we have to have a free safety.’ There were so many big needs at that time because we were trying to shift things a little bit.”
Now the Seahawks can focus on the approach they’ve honed over the previous four drafts, looking for what Schneider calls “smart, tough, reliable” players. On top of those characteristics, and those “special traits” Carroll covets, the one thing the Seahawks have slowly adjusted is how they try to, as Schneider puts it, find out what’s in a player’s heart.
Considering the Seahawks have missed on two fourth-round receivers in the past, it’s probably no coincidence that Schneider, Carroll and their scouting department rave about Norwood’s character and competitiveness. If there is one position that absolutely demands mental toughness in Seattle’s offense, it’s at receiver, where players are going against the league’s best secondary in practice and where opportunities are limited in games because of Seattle’s run-first offense.
“You have to have a certain mentality to be able to battle,” Schneider said. “You have to bring it right away when you walk in the door; you have to be able to bring it. That’s where, personally, I know I’ve made mistakes with guys … (We’re looking for) guys that will have that mentality about being able to compete in our locker room and survive in our locker room, which is a pretty young, confident place to be right now.”
But other than that adjustment in evaluating players, the Seahawks’ methods largely stayed the same in their fifth draft under Carroll and Schneider. They took players early who fit needs, even if they weren’t the players we were expecting. They focused on those players with special traits Carroll likes, and as the draft went on, took more risks on high-upside players who might have a bigger bust factor.
The formula is largely unchanged, which is good considering that formula helped build a championship team. Yet as excited as you might be about this draft class, remember that you might not see its impact in 2014. Schneider saw this play out when he was in Green Bay’s front office as the Packers grew into a consistent playoff-caliber team, and now it’s happening in Seattle.
“Some of the classes were kind of for the following year the more talented you became,” he said. “That’s just natural.”
That natural progression is a very good sign for the Seahawks, but it means an uphill battle for the 18 players acquired over the weekend, even if many of them have a bright future in Seattle … eventually.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.