Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

September 05, 2018 at 1:08 am.

Sea change in Seattle has head coach Carroll excited

Dating back to head coach Pete Carroll’s arrival in 2010, the Seattle Seahawks have been one of the most consistent franchises in the NFL, reaching the playoffs six consecutive times, winning four NFC West division titles, and earning two trips to the Super Bowl. But after failing to reach the postseason last year with a disappointing 9-7 record, the Seahawks underwent an unprecedented transformation with Carroll steering the ship this offseason.

The “Legion of Boom” secondary disintegrated, with Richard Sherman being released and joining the 49ers, Kam Chancellor sitting out with a career-ending neck injury, and Earl Thomas refusing to show up for camp as he seeks a new contract. The Seahawks traded Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett to the Eagles and released defensive end Cliff Avril after he couldn’t pass a physical due to a neck injury. Making matters worse, the team chose to let defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, tight end Jimmy Graham, and receiver Paul Richardson walk in free agency.

With so many star players departing in a talent drain rarely seen at the NFL level, the Seahawks arrived at offseason workouts nearly unrecognizable. And the carnage didn’t only affect the roster, as Carroll initiated widespread coaching changes, severing ties with long-time offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, line coach Tom Cable, and defensive coordinator Kris Richard among others.

Amid the turnover, Carroll has remained upbeat and enthusiastic about the potential of his revamped football team in a rugged, much-improved NFC West. While media outlets and sports pundits overlook the Seahawks, the league’s oldest head coach sees this year in a similar light to 2012 when the team’s recent extended run of success began.

As one of the few advantages of jettisoning multiple star players at once, Carroll has been revitalized by the positional battles among young players for starting roles, specifically on defense. After his “always compete” mantra seemed to fall flat over the course of the past season or two, players such as safety Tedric Thompson and rookie defensive end Rasheem Green have been given a chance to carve out a role in a new era of Seahawks defense.

With so many new players vying for playing time and a starting lineup featuring only four returning starters from a year ago, questions remain in regard to how Seattle intends to pressure opposing quarterbacks and whether or not a reconstructed secondary built around budding star Shaquill Griffin will mesh in Carroll’s system. But on the other side of the ball, there’s no question what Seattle wants to do offensively.

Seeking to reaffirm its identity as an NFC bully, Seattle replaced Bevell with former Jets and Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and brought back Mike Solari as the new line coach hoping to make the ground game function again. Once one of the best rushing teams in football, the Seahawks have slipped in this area over the past few years, ranking in the bottom third of the NFL in both 2016 and 2017.

From a personnel standpoint, resurrecting a dormant rushing attack has been a clear priority in every phase of Seattle’s offseason plan. Along with changing coaches, the Seahawks signed hulking guard D.J. Fluker in free agency, drafted dynamic running back Rashaad Penny in the first round, and also added the premier run blocking tight end in the 2017 draft class by snagging Will Dissly in the fourth round.

Despite going winless in the preseason for the first time in franchise history, early signs suggest these moves will pay dividends for Carroll and the Seahawks. Chris Carson has returned from a broken ankle as the undisputed starter in the backfield, while Fluker has brought a nasty edge to Seattle’s interior line and second-year guard Ethan Pocic has made tremendous growth after adding 20 pounds of muscle this offseason.

Add in a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in Russell Wilson along with a surprisingly deep receiving core consisting of Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Brandon Marshall, Jaron Brown, and rising star David Moore, and suddenly the Seahawks offense looks like it could evolve into a top-10 scoring unit this season if all the dominos fall just right.

Since the team has seen so many key players exit stage left and Carroll’s philosophies have been under fire from former players, the Seahawks remain one of the biggest mysteries heading into a new season. If the offensive line doesn’t gel as anticipated under Solari’s tutelage, Seattle can’t consistently manufacture a pass rush, and youth becomes too much of a hindrance in all three phases of the game, there’s a slim chance apocalyptic 4-12 predictions could become a reality.

With one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in Wilson, a perennial defensive player of the year candidate in linebacker Bobby Wagner, and a coach who has thrived in similar situations with his team playing the role of underdog, however, the Seahawks shouldn’t be slept on. A Week 1 one clash with Denver should give a strong indication of where this team stands, and if preseason auditions from the starting units are any indication, Seattle will remain competitive in the challenging NFC despite the talent exodus.

SERIES HISTORY: 54th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 34-19. As former AFC West rivals before the NFL realignment after the 2001 season, the Seahawks and Broncos have faced off 55 times (including playoffs) since their first matchup in 1977, with the Broncos leading the overall series 34-21. Since Seattle moved to the NFC West in 2002, they’ve won three of the past five contests. Most notably, the Seahawks have won both postseason matchups between the franchises, including a 43-8 romp in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Broncos dominated the series in the 1990s, winning all six divisional matchups during the 1996, 1997, and 1998 campaigns. Since 2000, however, the series has remained relatively even, with the Broncos holding a slight 5-4 edge in nine games.