MAURA DOOLEY

Seahawks will return to their roots, play rookies right away in ’22

Sep 3, 2022, 10:25 AM
Seahawks Boye Mafe...
Seahawks rookie pass rusher Boye Mafe prepares for a snap against the Bears on Aug. 18. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

What will the Seahawks look like in the post-Russell Wilson era? With the season opener just over a week away, that is the burning question. Well, that and will they be able to beat the aforementioned former Seattle signal-caller? But we’re going to stick to the first question for now.

Why Russell Wilson gave the Broncos a break he wouldn’t have given Seahawks

After an offseason that saw the Seahawks fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and offensive line coach Mike Solari, release eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner and trade their aforementioned franchise quarterback, it feels in many ways like they are starting over. And if you’re head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, that might not be such a bad thing. They first teamed up in Seattle in 2010, and by 2012 had built their team into a stacked contender.

Over the next 10 years, only the New England Patriots compiled more regular season wins with 115. The Seahawks and Chiefs are tied for second in the NFL with 105 victories over that decade. The Hawks won with a ridiculously dominant defense, a powerful rushing attack, an underrated wide receiving corps, and a quarterback who could make magic happen in the clutch. Expecting Carroll and Schneider to recreate a roster masterpiece of that magnitude again is unfair, but there are a lot of reasons to be excited about them getting back into that mindset.

One thing that Carroll and Schneider never shied away from while building their team was playing rookies, and it paid off quite frequently. Cornerback Richard Sherman started in 10 games his rookie season, Wagner started all 16 in his, and we all know how Wilson beat out Matt Flynn and never looked back in 2012.

At some point over the last few years, the Seahawks got away from that approach.

There were some issues with limited preseason practices during COVID, and guys like Cody Barton and Jordyn Brooks had very talented players ahead of them in Wagner and K.J. Wright, but it still felt like a departure from Carroll’s core philosophy. ESPN.com’s Brady Henderson pointed to Norton as a possible reason for the change when he joined The Mike Salk Show in May.

“As I’ve learned through various conversations even before they let him go, he was very reluctant to play younger players,” Henderson said of Norton. “I think this new regime, Clint Hurtt, and the other new defensive coaches there, they are going to embrace playing younger players a lot more than Ken Norton Jr. did.”

Bumpus: Four Seahawks rookies who earned Week 1 starting jobs

Watching the preseason play out and hearing Carroll rave about this rookie class seems to confirm Henderson’s thinking. Schneider and Carroll, armed with extra draft picks from the Wilson trade, put together a draft class they are thrilled with, and it sounds like they want to see them play. Carroll has made it clear throughout training camp that he believes most of these rookies can provide immediate contributions.

Boye Mafe, LB (Minnesota): “He has done really well,” Carroll told reporters Wednesday. “The minimum we hope for is that he can help us in the pass rush. We saw him really active in that position when he wasn’t dropping in all the linebacker stuff that he can do. And he seems to be able to help us sooner as a pass rush guy. He’s really fast, long, and he’s really working hard at it. He looks good with the moves that he is using and the techniques that he is using. So, he can help us. He can help us in this game. So, we are anxious to see that we can get him well.”

Mafe suffered a shoulder injury in the second preseason game against the Bears and sat out the preseason finale, but Carroll says has a chance to play in the season opener against Denver.

Tariq Woolen, CB (UTSA): “He can play, yeah. He can play,” Carroll said in his Wednesday press conference. “It was almost poetic that he goes out there and struggles, misses a tackle, and a touchdown pass on a bust right off of the bat. Even in that game, it was like, ‘OK, this is what it could be like. Let’s fix everything up and get back to work,’ which he did. In that game in particular, he came right back at it. We played him a lot so he got a lot of reps through the three games, and he’s been out here going against (wide receivers) Marquise (Goodwin), DK (Metcalf), and Tyler (Lockett). He’s hung in with all of those guys. Those guys are as fast, as good, and as really a diverse talent that you can go against. He’s ready to go.”

Coby Bryant, CB (Cincinnati): “Coby is ready to play,” Carroll said following Tuesday’s roster cut down. “At this stage, you can only be as ready as he is. But he can play for us, and we will expect him to make things happen and do good stuff just like when he plays football. It’s not new to him anymore. He’s comfortable with it, but he’ll get a lot better. He’ll be able to take advantage of the calls and the looks and disguises and all that kind of stuff as he grows with it.”

Seahawks Breakdown: Why rookie Coby Bryant is nickel CB

Charles Cross, LT (Miss St) and Abe Lucas, RT (WSU): “Both guys coming out of the same system, playing in different parts of the country and all but they’ve made the transition to be run guys,” said Carroll following the preseason finale in Dallas, mentioning that both tackles played in Air Raid offenses set up by Mike Leach. “They come off the rock; they’re both physical and athletic. They’re finishing well. That’s the stuff we’re looking for. These guys really, really took to the coaching and they give us a chance to have a really good looking group for a long time.”

Kenneth Walker, RB (Michigan St): Walker is recovering from a hernia procedure. Carroll initially said they were aiming to have him back for the season opener but the update this week was that his status remains uncertain. When he does return, Carroll expects him to be a big spark for the offense.

“Remember how Rashaad (Penny) finished the (2021) season? Well, Kenneth Walker on our practice field and what we’ve seen of this guy, he is right there pushing Rashaad, too,” Carroll said ahead of the final preseason game. “He’s fast, he’s explosive, he’s creative with the ball, he can catch it, he can block, he can do all those things. So all of those elements add to the attack and how we want this thing to unfold. The explosive part of our game is really a crucial part and hopefully that will unfold.”

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