Seahawks again relying on youth, and it seems to be working

Oct 6, 2023, 2:17 PM

Seattle Seahawks Zach Charbonnet...

Seattle Seahawks RB Zach Charbonnet celebrates after a run on Sept. 24, 2023. (Christopher Mast/Getty Images)

(Christopher Mast/Getty Images)

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll loves young players just starting out in the NFL. Always has.

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More than a decade ago, the foundation of what became Seattle’s Super Bowl champion was built around players at the beginning of their careers.

It became clear a year ago that Carroll and the Seahawks were trying to recreate the formula once more. After trading Russell Wilson to Denver, the NFL’s oldest coach recommitted to youth.

So far, it seems to be working. Seattle went 9-8 and made the playoffs last season and is 3-1 this year with a roster peppered with first- and second-year players making major contributions.

After flopping in their season opener against the Los Angeles Rams, the Seahawks have won three straight heading into their bye week, capped by last Monday’s 24-3 win over the New York Giants.

The latest young player to flash for Seattle was rookie Devon Witherspoon, who was named the NFC defensive player of the week for his performance last Monday night. He had seven tackles, two sacks and an interception that he returned 97 yards for a touchdown.

It was the kind of impact Seattle was hoping to get when it took Witherspoon with the No. 5 overall pick, the highest-ever selection for the tandem of Carroll and and general manager John Schneider.

“He has been electric for this defense and just is confident. You don’t see rookies that are that confident,” Seattle safety Julian Love said. “He’s coming in, obviously he missed the first game. He was missing most of camp because he was battling, rehabbing. He was coming in and has impacted this defense in a positive way, which is huge, and now just keep taking steps forward for him.”

Witherspoon isn’t the only youngster playing a critical role for the Seahawks.

When the season began, Seattle had the most rookies on a 53-man roster of any team in the league with 15. Among the current 53, 22 are in their first or second seasons.

They still have veterans in important positions like quarterback Geno Smith, linebacker Bobby Wagner and safety Quandre Diggs, but Seattle is getting major contributions from that young cohort.

Some of it is by design because they are the best players for Seattle to put on the field, like running back Kenneth Walker III, edge rusher Boye Mafe or cornerback Riq Woolen, who were all part of the 2022 draft class for the Seahawks.

Some of it has been by necessity as injuries have hit at key positions and left some of those youngsters being pushed into more important roles. For example, rookie guard Anthony Bradford and rookie center Olu Oluwatimi were thrust into action on Monday night after injuries left the Seahawks without four of the five offensive linemen who started their opener.

Whatever the case, it seems to be working. And Carroll sees the timing of the bye as a great opportunity to reassess.

“This is a really good time for us. It’s a good time for us to come back with new perspective for the young guys where we can kind of go back to talking about what they’ve accomplished and how far they’ve come along,” Carroll said. “Really, to me, there’s so much focus on those guys and their ability to contribute as we move forward. I think this is a really good stopping point for us in that regard.”

The performance by Witherspoon against the Giants was the flashiest moment among this year’s rookie class for Seattle. Running back Zach Charbonnet is averaging more than 5 yards per carry in the past two games, getting limited carries as a counter to Walker’s running style. Edge rusher Derick Hall is playing 35% of the defensive snaps. Bradford and Oluwatimi only get noticed if something goes wrong. Even undrafted wide receiver Jake Bobo made a mark with at touchdown reception in Week 3.

The one rookie still awaiting a breakout performance is first-rounder Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Expected to be the No. 3 option in Seattle’s pass game, Smith-Njigba has 12 receptions but for a total of 62 yards. Nine of his catches have been for 7 yards or less.

If Seattle can unlock more from Smith-Njigba, the rookie contributions could grow exponentially.

“We’re still figuring each other out, and it’s going to take some time. I don’t think he needs to overthink it, I don’t think anyone needs to overthink it,” Smith said. “He’s a great player, he’s a great player on this offense, he’s going to make a ton of plays for us, and it just hasn’t happened quite yet.”

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