Seahawks defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt (left) talks with head coach Pete Carroll during a practice on Monday in Renton. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Seahawks defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt (left) talks with head coach Pete Carroll during a practice on Monday in Renton. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Seahawks emphasizing accountability in new defensive scheme

Seattle will feature more 3-4 looks this season under new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt.

  • Bob Condotta, The Seattle Times
  • Thursday, June 2, 2022 6:42pm
  • SportsSeahawks

By Bob Condotta / The Seattle Times

RENTON — So how best to describe what the Seattle Seahawks can do on the field right now during organized team activities, better known as OTAs?

“We’re doing underwear Olympics out here,” said coach Clint Hurtt of the sessions, in which no full pads or contact is allowed.

As such, there isn’t a whole lot of player evaluation going on either.

“Nothing’s going to be decided anytime soon,” Hurtt said of some of the team’s position battles. “… We don’t make decisions until we get pads on.”

That won’t happen until training camp begins in late July.

The priority for now is teaching and learning.

That may be more critical than ever for Seattle this spring with Hurtt, who replaced the fired Ken Norton Jr., installing a new defense that will predominantly feature a 3-4 front compared to the 4-3 of the past. It will also use more two-high safety looks — meaning both safeties lined up deep — instead of the one-high of the past.

The new scheme marks the most significant change Pete Carroll has made to the Seattle defense as he enters the 13th season of his Seahawks coaching tenure.

But there was little doubt change was needed after the last few years with Seattle ranking 22nd or worse in yards allowed each of the past three years and also struggling to consistently get sacks and create turnovers.

The defensive struggles coincided with the key members of the Legion of Boom moving on. When Seattle led the NFL in fewest points allowed four straight seasons from 2012-15 — the most consecutive seasons allowing the fewest points in the Super Bowl era — the Seahawks had a reputation for being fairly simple on defense.

“We play man-to-man or Cover Three (zone), not much more than that,” Kam Chancellor said in 2013. “It’s not a secret.”

But with Seattle’s personnel changing and NFL offenses continuing to evolve, simply lining up and daring an opponent to beat you no longer worked so well.

As Hurtt has said several times since being hired to replace Norton, Seattle’s goal is to be able to throw a number of different defensive looks at offenses to add elements of both surprise and disguise.

“You’ve got to change your looks and where you’re bringing things from and what not,” Hurtt said following Tuesday’s OTA. “Generally, overall, we’re gonna play a lot more nickel stuff than we’ve had in the past. You know, in still being multiple, where we still have the ability to do that.

“So they’ll still be guys in the traditional sense, still being on the edge and rushing the passer in traditional 4-3 looks, so that stuff is still going to be a part of the system. We just have a lot of different things that we can do.”

That will hopefully allow Seattle to better match up with teams on a week-to-week basis who may run different offensive schemes. The hope is also that it can make the best use of the skills of each player.

“I think what the defense is going to do is put them in better positions to play the game that they know how to play,” said safety Ryan Neal. “Last year we had a couple of issues, but this year I can really see us like fixing it and letting, you know, people rush who supposed to rush, letting people cover who supposed to cover. And that’s just really the tweak. You know what I mean? It’s just a simple change.”

Simple on paper, maybe.

But the multiplicity of the scheme will put a premium on players communicating with each other before the snap, something else that has been a noticeable issue at times the last few years.

“Guys (have to) know who is supposed to be where, who’s responsible for things, who has a tough down based on the call,” Hurtt said. “So there’s a lot of teaching involved with that.”

Adding to that challenge is that Bobby Wagner — the middle linebacker the last 10 years whose job is was to relay the play call from the coaches to the rest of the defense — is gone, replaced in that role now by Jordyn Brooks, Seattle’s first-round pick in 2020.

“It definitely is something to adapt to because obviously being with Bobby you’ve been able to kind of let him handle that and then you can just go focus and go play,” Hurtt said. “So he’s in the midst of obviously learning a new system and obviously having to communicate the calls with the rest of the defense. But I will say I’m proud of where he’s at. I know this is foreign territory for him, but he wanted to grab and take hold of it and he’s done it very well.”

Seattle right now also has a few key veterans sitting out. Notably, starting safeties Jamal Adams (shoulder) and Quandre Diggs (leg) are each still recovering from surgeries, leaving the starting safety duties for now to Ryan Neal, Ugo Amadi and Josh Jones.

But even without some of the key vets who will take on significant leadership roles when they return, Hurtt feels the defense is making significant progress.

One, he said, is in understanding the importance of accountability and that the new defense will only work if everyone does their part, starting with the learning and teaching going on right now.

“To me, that’s everything,” Hurtt said. “That’s something that you have to do. It doesn’t matter, whether it’s is an established player like Jamal or Q Diggs or a young guy. Everyone, coaches as well, has to be accountable to what’s going on out here. They have to feel that standard.”

Hurtt indicated it’s a standard that’s been reached, saying the team is further along in its learning and communication than he thought it might be.

“I was curious to see how they would handle stuff, and guys have really been hungry and attacked it schematically what we’re doing,” he said. The payoff, everyone hopes, will come in the fall.

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