RENTON — The Seattle Seahawks put on full pads for a training camp practice at the VMAC this week for the first time since their last game — a desultory 30-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in front of an empty stadium at Lumen Field.
That game helped precipitate the biggest change in Seattle’s offseason — firing offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and hiring Shane Waldron as his replacement.
Waldron was on the other sideline when Seattle’s 2020 season ended, serving as passing game coordinator for the Rams.
Now he’s running the whole offensive show in Seattle, given the high-pressure task of getting the most out of Russell Wilson in the season in which he turns 33 and helping lift the Seahawks out of a rut of six consecutive seasons advancing no further than the divisional round of the playoffs.
Exactly what Waldron’s offense will look like won’t be fully apparent until the regular season begins Sept. 12 at Indianapolis, with the Seahawks undoubtedly hoping to keep as much under wraps as possible in three preseason games.
But through the first padless days of camp, a few themes emerged. Specifically, players say the offense is emphasizing a quicker pace, both in terms of taking less time between snaps but also in increasing the number and types of plays that get the ball out of Wilson’s hands more quickly.
And, they say Waldron has brought with him some staples of the Rams offense — notably, running the same play out of multiple formations, and using more pre-snap motion, each tactic designed to confuse the defense.
Tight end Gerald Everett, who spent the past four years with the Rams, said the offense isn’t a complete makeover and that there are still elements of what Seattle ran previously.
“I would have to say 50-50, honestly,” Everett said. “… There’s some similarities (to the Rams) but you look around the league, every offense is running something of the same.”
One thing Waldron is undoubtedly keeping in Seattle’s offense is the zone read, something that has been a key part of the attack since Wilson — one of the best running quarterbacks in NFL history — took over in 2012.
But if many of the plays might be the same, the difference will be more in how they are executed and how they look to opponents.
Seattle ranked 19th in the NFL last year in seconds per play at 27.72 according to Football Outsiders. The Rams weren’t much faster at 27.62 (16th).
But Seattle players say that so far, the offense seems much quicker than a year ago, which doesn’t necessarily mean running no-huddle, but just operating at a faster pace.
“We’re picking up the tempo on offense,” said receiver DK Metcalf, adding, “I think it’s going to help us in the long run where teams really can’t get a handle on what we’re doing.”
The faster pace puts a particular challenge on the offensive line.
“They have to be in good condition,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “If it’s wearing them down, then we’re not getting anything out of it. But Shane has a good feel for how much they need to work on and how we can keep progressing. We’ll see how we do when we start playing games. It’s going to be a while before that happens.
“We’re going to test them out here for sure. But then, it always seems like the other guys (the defense) get more tired. So hopefully we’ll be able to do that, take advantage of that.”
Right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi agreed the tempo is faster and that it will put a premium on the linemen to keep up.
“I think it’s just part of the scheme, and we like it,” Ogbuehi said. “And it’s good also for us to run fast and keep getting in shape.”
Metcalf also said the offense includes more plays in which Wilson is passing the ball quickly to receivers.
“It gets the ball out of Russ’ hands faster to his players so we can break tackles and go score,” said Metcalf. “It’s a pretty big emphasis that we didn’t have last year.”
So, too, players say, is the emphasis on pre-snap motion, a tactic teams use to try to confuse defenders by putting running backs/receivers into motion as the snap nears. According to ESPN, the Rams were second in the NFL last year in motion at the snap at 27% while the Seahawks were 14th at 12.8%.
“It definitely makes us unpredictable,” said Everett, whom Seattle signed as a free agent in part due to his familiarity with Waldron. “That’s something Seattle struggled with last year, the offense. Teams started to be able to key in on DK and Tyler (Lockett) and kind of double those guys and there’s just nothing for the offense to gain.”
Worth remembering is that the Seattle offense was hardly a disaster last year. The Seahawks set a franchise record for most points with 459, despite not scoring either a defensive or special teams touchdown. Wilson set a franchise record with 40 touchdown passes. And Seattle’s 356 first downs were the second-most in team history behind only the 361 of 2005.
But the wild-card debacle capped a second-half offensive downturn and led to a feeling that the offense — after three years under Schottenheimer — needed some refining if not necessarily a complete overhaul.
Early returns seem promising. But then, they usually are. And the reality is that it will take until January to really judge.
As Everett said, winning the Super Bowl is the only real goal the team has.
“We’re chasing that Lombardi,” Everett said. “If anybody says anything different, then they are wrong. We are coming to work every day trying to compete to our best capabilities and just bring our hard hats to work every day and see what comes out of it.”