Superior talent at Southern Cal helped Carroll win over 83 percent of the time. Fueled by a roster routinely stockpiled with All-Americans at key positions, the Trojans ran over the competition en route to seven straight Pac-10 titles and two national championships.
In returning to the pro game, Carroll faces the challenge of attempting to transform the Seattle Seahawks into contenders with a defense that appears devoid of star power.
|How Seahawks fared defensively in 2009|
|Category||Team total||League rank|
|Total defense||356.4 YPG||24|
|Rush defense||111.0 YPG||15|
|Pass defense||245.4 YPG||30|
Although Carroll’s background is on defense, he faces a stiff challenge in Seattle. The Seahawks ranked 24th in defense last season and didn’t send a single player to the Pro Bowl. The unit’s ineffectiveness against the pass (30th in the league) often resulted in long drives by the opposition.
Although the Seahawks excelled at limiting the big play (only surrendering four passes of 40 yards or more), they gave up the fourth-highest completion percentage in the league (65.8 percent). The efficient passing resulted in frequent trips to the red zone and contributed to the Seahawks allowing 24.4 points a game.
In looking at why the Seahawks were in the bottom half of the league, the defense lacks the elite pass rusher and cover corner typically associated with top units.
While some would argue that former Pro Bowler Marcus Trufant is capable of being a shutdown corner, he’s been plagued by a nagging back injury that limited him to 10 games last season. When healthy, however, he has elite ability.
On the other side, Josh Wilson will handle the opponent’s No. 2 receiver. The fourth-year pro has quietly emerged, including picking off six balls the past two seasons. His man-to-man cover skills have continued to improve with more experience.
With the corners frequently exposed to one-on-one matchups, the Seahawks needed a dynamic safety to provide support over the top.
Earl Thomas, the 14th overall pick in April’s draft, can become a difference-maker in the back end. As a rare safety with corner-like cover skills, he will be able to shadow tight ends and slot receivers in space. In addition, his range allows him to get from the middle of the field to the numbers on deep throws. If he shows the same instincts and awareness that produced 10 interceptions at Texas, the Seahawks’ aggressive cover scheme could give opponents fits.
While improved coverage is vital, the Seahawks must also find a way to generate pressure upfront. They amassed only 28 sacks a season ago, and haven’t had anyone post double-digit sacks since Patrick Kerney’s 14.5 in 2007.
Carroll took a step to address that by dealing Darryl Tapp to Philadelphia for Chris Clemons, who’s being counted on to make an impact as the open-side end.
Clemons, who has 20 career sacks, gives Carroll a high-motor speed rusher. Although he was seemingly invisible during a two-year stint in Philadelphia, Clemons has shown flashes of being a quality rusher when given opportunities, and he should have plenty of chances as a hybrid player for the Seahawks.
With the rest of his pass rushers considered unknown commodities, Carroll will lean on an exceptional group of linebackers to provide most of the big plays.
Led by three-time Pro Bowler Lofa Tatupu, the Seahawks have a diverse crew of linebackers. Although Tatupu doesn’t truly fit into the athletic or speedy category, he’s one of the most instinctive players at the position, and has a knack for getting around the ball.
While Tatupu is unquestionably the headliner, the Seahawks also have potential impact players in Aaron Curry and Leroy Hill.
Curry, the fourth overall pick in 2009, teased with flashes of brilliance as a rookie, but failed to sustain a high level of consistently. At his best, Curry showed solid rush skills (two sacks and two forced fumbles) and could be a potential pass rusher/playmaker as the SAM linebacker in the revamped defense.
In Hill, the Seahawks have an athlete capable of delivering as a run-and-chase linebacker from the weakside. Though he’s missed nine games over the past two seasons due to an assortment of injuries, when healthy, he’s played at a Pro Bowl caliber level. Unfortunately, Hill’s legal woes have kept him off the field during the offseason, and could sideline him for the foreseeable future.
Although Hill’s absence would appear to significantly weaken Seattle’s front seven, David Hawthorne’s emergence should allow the unit to continue to thrive. He played well while filling in for Tatupu at middle linebacker last season and is currently serving as Hill’s replacement. Given his penchant for impact plays (four sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles a year ago), it’s not a stretch to envision Hawthorne serving as Hill’s long-term replacement.
Carroll is intent on immediately building the Seahawks into a perennial contender, and wants his team to eventually “own” the NFC West. The optimistic leader will need breakout performances from several young defenders for the Seahawks to reach his goals.