From the time he first walked into the Seahawks’ palatial headquarters on Lake Washington, Pete Carroll pledged competition.
It’s the crux of nearly everything he’s done since arriving in Seattle. It’s why the Seahawks have made 275 roster transactions since Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over nearly a year ago, trading players like commodities, rarely hesitating when the opportunity came to make a change.
Of the Seahawks’ 53-man roster for Saturday’s playoff game against New Orleans, only 21 players were there a year ago.
His philosophy of change is why Carroll didn’t blink at the idea of starting a 10th different offensive line combination in a must-win season finale – even if there were still leaks everywhere – or the idea of going with backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst in last Sunday’s 16-6 division-clinching win over St. Louis.
So in his first season back in the NFL, Carroll’s competition mandate has produced a division winner, albeit one with the dubious distinction of being the first sub.-500 division champs in league history and in a division where Seattle essentially won by default.
But perhaps his toughest sell job of all since he took over could come this week, convincing his seven-win team it’s capable of upsetting the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the first round of the NFC playoffs.
“This is just a step in the process of getting a club to the mindset that it takes to prepare to perform like a champion and find the consistency that it takes to become that,” Carroll said.
A year ago, the Seahawks were an old team trying to win a weak division and they collapsed into a five-win mess that cost Jim Mora his job. They relied on too many veterans who couldn’t produce what Seattle needed to take advantage of its situation in the NFC West.
This season, the Seahawks were a team in transition, again trying to win the worst division in football but more focused on laying the groundwork for what’s ahead. That’s why veterans like T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and Deon Grant were sent away and Carroll was OK relying on young and unproven players who showed the effort worthy of being given a chance in game settings.
Ben Obomanu was thought to be a nice special teams player who could be a fourth or fifth option at wide receiver. He’ll be the starter at one wide receiver spot opposite one-time first-round bust Mike Williams come Saturday afternoon – the same Williams who signed a new three-year contract extension last weekend after developing into the Seahawks’ top receiver.
“To get in and get a chance at the starting role in midseason is kind of unheard of. A lot of guys earn positions in training camp and no matter what happens that’s their spot for the whole season and you have to wait until the next season to prove yourself,” Obomanu said. “So the competition theme throughout the season has really held true and he’s let everybody earn what you want to accomplish.”
The fact the NFC West was a horrid mess and Seattle somehow “earned” its fifth NFC West title and a home playoff game is just a benefit of what the Seahawks were ultimately attempting to accomplish in Carroll’s first year.
“He’s willing to work hard to get it right. You saw how many roster moves we had all year,” Seattle safety Lawyer Milloy said. Milloy played for Carroll early in his career in New England. “We had some players who were big time players go down and he knows how to right the ship. He keeps us focused, he keeps the atmosphere light and seems like he always knows what to say. We’re an extension of him. The energy he brings is second to none.”
Aside from actually getting Seattle to the postseason, Carroll’s also brought notoriety back to the Seahawks for the first time since the team made its only Super Bowl run back in 2005. Folks are paying attention to the Pacific Northwest, even if the product isn’t that appealing.
In some ways, Seattle is worse than last year.
Their inability to run the ball this season has been a laughable failure, sans the second half last Sunday night against St. Louis when Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks finally found some success running off the right side of a beleaguered offensive line. Seattle’s run game ranked 31st in the league and failed to have a 100-yard rusher all season.
The Seahawks finished the 2010 season among the worst statistically in the NFL – ranked 28th in offense and 27th on defense – lost seven of their final 10 games and yet are hosting a playoff game.
“We played some miserable football at times and looked like we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. But the guys hung together with the whole thought of it,” Carroll said. “How do we do it? By being consistent and not whacking out. I think we stayed very true to our principles and our beliefs, trusting that we’re on course and we’re going to be OK.”