When the Seahawks moved into their new Renton digs on the shores of Lake Washington in August, it was just another large room in just another corner of the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
But not this week.
The “war room,” as the draft room has been dubbed, suddenly is the hub of all the activity leading up to this weekend’s NFL draft. It has been the site for countless hours of meetings the past two months. It is where the Seahawks draft brain trust will hunker down and decide which players the team will select in Saturday’s first and second rounds – the fourth and 37th picks overall – and subsequent five rounds that will be conducted Sunday (when the club has eight picks).
“It really is awesome,” vice president of player personnel Ruston Webster said, referring to the room that he uses more than his office.
Make that awesome, by design.
“The draft room was a focus of the overall design, because it’s an essential piece of our football operations,” said Lance Lopes, the vice president and general counsel who oversaw the construction at VMAC.
The draft room in the team’s old headquarters in Kirkland was, well, cramped – as was just about everything else in the club’s previous complex.
Not at VMAC. The draft room is 1,600 square feet, or twice the size of the one in Kirkland.
The expanded space will allow all the scouts and all the assistant coaches to join in the selection process with club president Tim Ruskell and Webster – as well as team owner Paul Allen.
In Kirkland, the assistant coaches and scouts had to be shuttled in and out, according to their importance to the next pick. Now, everyone can be involved, from first pick to last – as they should be.
“The cooperation and communication with the coaching staff has been fantastic,” Ruskell said.
It’s a coaching staff that is even newer than the less-than-year-old draft room, as Jim Mora has taken over as head coach for Mike Holmgren and hired five new assistants – offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, defensive line coach Dan Quinn, secondary coach Tim Lewis and wide receivers coach Robert Prince.
The coaches have worked with the scouts – regional directors Scott Fitterer and Mike Yowarsky, as well as area scouts Matt Berry, Ed Dodds, Charles Fisher, Derrick Jensen and Eric Stokes – to insure those who find the players and those who will coach them are on the same page.
“The scouts are the unsung heroes,” Mora said. “These scouts spend a whole year, two years in some cases, evaluating these players.
“So it’s really exciting for me to see the scouts when one of their players gets picked. If you know how much work they put into this thing, it’s amazing.”
The meshing of the two elements, as Ruskell put it, “Has been just been fantastic. There’s no other way to put it.”
The area they’ll call home this weekend looks like something from an old Star Wars movie. It’s wall-to-wall whiteness, and the shiny magnetic boards allow for easy stacking of the Seahawks’ draft board and then placement of picks as they are made during the selection process.
The room is wired for projection technology. But this weekend, Ruskell and Webster will continue to do things the old-fashioned way – a system they learned while working for Jerry Angelo and Rich McKay in Tampa.
Ruskell joined the Buccaneers in 1987 as a regional scout. Webster came aboard the following year, as an area scout. After the Seahawks hired Ruskell in 2005, Webster joined him in 2006.
Through the years – and all those drafts together – these two have become simpatico. It’s gotten to the point where they know what the other is thinking. Like Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson on the left side of the offensive line during the Seahawks’ run to the Super Bowl in 2005. Or, the rapport that was so evident between Matt Hasselbeck and Darrell Jackson when they hooked up for 87 completions in 2004 and Hasselbeck and Bobby Engram when they connected for 94 completions in 2007.
“You know what’s sad? When we say something at the same time,” Webster said with a laugh of his relationship with Ruskell. “That scares me.
“But it really is good. I know how he thinks. And I think for him, it’s important to have somebody who understands that. And he knows how I think. For the most part, we were kind of brought up in this business the same way so our philosophy is the same.”
The draft Ruskell and Webster can’t forget came in 1995, when the Buccaneers selected defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks in the first round.
“We could have gone home after that,” Webster said of the duo that combined to earn 18 Pro Bowl berths while forming the foundation of the Bucs’ defense. “It was one of the deals with Brooks where people said, ‘How can you take this guy? He’s too small.’
“So you’ve got to go off conviction.”
As the Seahawks did by trading up in the second rounds in 2005 and 2008 to select middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and tight end John Carlson. One was too small. Both were too slow.
Now, each is a cornerstone of his respective unit.
“That’s why you rely on your own evaluation,” Webster said.
For this draft, the room might have changed, as well as some of the people in it. But the purpose for being in the room remains the same.
“We try to discipline ourselves to say, ‘Who’s the best player? Who is the guy that is going to do the most for the football team?’ ” Ruskell said. “Regardless of what side of the ball. Regardless of when that guy’s going to be ready to play.
“We put the blinders on for that first. The other stuff is philosophical, and we discuss it. But we have to line up our board in a certain way. And that’s how we line up our board.”
Even if that board is now in a state-of-the-art draft room.