The following quotes by Seahawks GM John Schneider come from several sources and were collected at and around the NFL Combine. They were shared by Seahawks.com, Eric Williams' blog at the Tacoma News-Tribune, Danny O'Neil's Seahawks Blog at the Seattle Times, The John Clayton Show at 710ESPN, and by Glen Peer, transcribing a SIRIUS radio interview by Rich Gannon. I put some of these comments together and want to give my initial reactions and thoughts on them, because Schneider doesn't talk to the media all that often but his vision for the franchise shines through pretty well every time he does.
First off - Schneider on the Combine...
"Our primary goal at the Combine is to get as many questions answered as possible from the meetings we've just had for the past 17 days. That includes psychology questions, scheme-fit questions, medical questions, any background questions, any character questions.
We've given the coaches some players to start evaluating that they're going to be interviewing at the Combine. Because for them, they're just starting to get to know the guys and it's their first exposure to the players the scouts have been looking at."
First reaction is that it would appear the Seahawks already have the group of guys they really like whittled down to a short list for the coaches and scouts to really focus on. I'm sure this is similar to many other franchises, obviously, but this quote seems to tell me that they're not going to be swayed one way or another too strongly by workout times or bench press numbers. This isn't rocket science, and most teams probably operate in similar fashion, but when Schneider's 'primary goal' at the Combine is to get 'psychology questions, scheme-fit questions, medical questions, any background questions, and any character questions' answered, it tells me that he's not too worried about how fast they run.
Now, it's probably different for the late round guys, who may get a little more recognition with some above average or elite testing numbers, but for the players the Seahawks are evaluating in the first couple of rounds, the game tape is going to be doing most of the talking. A tenth of a second here or there isn't going to sway this front office, it would seem.
Schneider on the differences this year over last:
"Last year, obviously it was a fluid process because it was our first time through as one group - with one grading scale and more of a clear focus on everybody speaking the same language. We were proud of that group last year because we really focused on the toughness of the group."
He brings up the Seahawks' grading scale - and from what I can gather, it's obviously a fairly proprietary system, most likely borrowed on from that of Green Bay but modified for what Pete Carroll envisions. Schneider mentions, often, the 'new grading category' that they introduced after the 2010 Draft and my best guess is that it has something to do with toughness, both mental and physical. JS has the habit of harping on toughness - he mentions punching opponents in the mouth, or taking a punch, or playing in the parking lot, or alley, pretty much every time he's interviewed. Whatever grading scale the Seahawks use internally, my best guess is that this attribute is something they try to quantify and/or qualify.
Schneider was asked about the biggest improvement for the team this past year:
"Getting to the point where we can play anywhere, out in the alley, where ever. Punch us in the face, and we can take it."
He cited victories against the Giants and Ravens and close losses to the 49ers as examples.
As for the Draft though, and finding potential nuggets of gold later on, the main thing to focus on here is that it would appear everyone is more on the same page with the philosophy of the organization. The scouts and coaching staff are up to date on what PCJS want in their players, and that streamlines and improves the process, theoretically.
"It's just a focus on never feeling that you have all the answers. We have to approach these meetings like we're trying to learn as much as we possibly can about each player, and prove one way or the other what type of player the guy is."
Again - what I get from Schneider's quotes is that they really do look at the personality and mindset of players, and not just their game film and physical measureables. This allowed them to single out and acquire guys like Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin, two Stanford players that personify this idea. Both players are ULTRA alpha dog types, and though I'm sure that's not something that is easily measured, it is something that can be evaluated in interviews and meetings with former coaches. If you've seen how these guys play on Sundays, it's pretty apparent. They're intense. They're supremely confident. Obviously, football skills are extremely important and physical prowess is valued, but those aren't the reasons that Sherman and Baldwin were targeted - especially for Baldwin.
Now, obviously, physical measureables and athletic aptitude are important - this is the NFL - but when you're trying to evaluate several hundred players that all have 99th percentile athleticism, other factors certainly come into play. These factors may be what set the Schneider system apart, and may be how he's managed to identify and acquire guys in the middle rounds that have found success.
"But I believe in our system, I believe in our process, so it doesn't necessarily matter where you're picking the players. People can pick apart how you acquire a player, or where you acquire a player, but I think after time that kind of goes away."
Schneider certainly believes in his system, and for a 2011 draft class that was lambasted by pretty much everyone in the media, several picks have already turned out to be pretty savvy so far, Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright being the main examples. The system Schneider has followed or created has allowed the Seahawks to fill some positions for relatively little in terms of draft capital and money.
I think we're getting there. I was really pleased with how a lot of the young guys stepped up and played, especially the second half of the season last year. And so I think you can see that that group now, and what we'd like to do is start rewarding our own players, you know.
Once you get it to a point where you kinda change the roster, you kinda get it to a point where you have a group you think you can win with, you know, that Pete and I are comfortable with, and the coaching staff, then you can try and keep that group together. Try to keep that cohesion, and then just kind of supplement with free agency a little, if you need to, and then as far as specific needs, big holes, and then just go out and bust your tail in the Draft. That's where we're at right now.
If the system continues to work, they'll look to fill these specific roles with more mid-round fits to really supplement what is hopefully a big fish or two in the first and second rounds. Kam Chancellor, Walter Thurmond, possibly Anthony McCoy were these guys in 2010, and RIchard Sherman, K.J. Wright emerged in 2011. Will we see potential starters emerge from this year's class? Hopefully. You can't really expect to find guys in rookie free agency but I don't doubt that Schneider is already laying aside a list of guys likely to go undrafted.
Speaking to that, Schneider addressed having a bounty of Draft picks, as the team did in '10 and '11. Something that the team does not have this year:
"I personally believe that if you believe in your process, which we do, than it just makes more sense to have more picks. If we have more picks then we're drafting Jeron Johnson, and we're drafting Doug Baldwin, and we're drafting Josh Portis. Luckily those guys came to us as free agents."
This quote is fairly important, though it's no mystery that the Seahawks will likely try to trade back this year to accumulate picks. Another way to grab draft picks this year, that wasn't available last year, is to trade a player or two. I could see the Seahawks doing some Draft-day trades to pick up a few extra picks with some players they may not feel have a spot going forward. Off the top of my head I can't really think of specific examples, but Schneider has made it a point in the past that the team wants to build up their depth so other teams are calling about their players on a consistent basis. If they feel like they can get by with the depth they have at certain positions, they may look to swap for a later pick in the case they really like a player that's still available.
More to follow...