With the Seahawks in the middle of their second four-day OTA this week, local media has been given the chance to catch up with a couple members of the 'Hawks coaching staff, most notably Offensive Coordinator Derrell Bevell and Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley on Wednesday. Nothing groundbreaking in either interview on 710 ESPN, but I still find some of the things said interesting and worth mention, particularly because we don't hear from the Seahawks' OC very often. Bevell appeared on the Brock and Salk show with Brock Huard and Mike Salk to talk offense, and started out by just encapsulating the general philosophy for the offensive scheme.
Said Bevell - "We want to be a run-first team. We added a second running back in the draft [Robert Turbin], so we still end up having that size, that big strong runner, once Marshawn Lynch comes out of the game. But, I think the important part of the passing game is that it needs to be explosive."
"That's what we want to do, it's what we want to be. It gives us opportunities to throw it, not just the little, you know, West-Coast Offense style where you're going five or six yards, we want to be able to get big chunks. If you're going to drive the length of the field, you're going to have to do that, and I think that's something that we're still working on."
Not a huge surprise, and though the Seahawks do run a West Coast Offense and use WCO terminology, they have shown the proclivity to strike downfield on play action. It's a way to keep the defense honest, especially when Seattle is having success with the run. It's why Tarvaris Jackson, with his strong arm, was a fit for the Hawks last year and likely a big reason he was brought in. We've heard it said a hundred times - he knew Bevell's offense so could hit the ground running, but the truth is his skillset lends itself to running what the Seahawks want to do, in some part.
Jackson is not the most accurate thrower ever and he's not a quick decision maker or progression reader, but he can make the deep throw when called on. Obviously, his deficiencies in other areas have led the Seahawks to peruse other options - Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson - but in general I don't think the Hawks will go away from the formula, no matter who is playing QB in 2012. Run hard, when they stack the box, throw it over their head. In the interview, Salk presses Bevell as to how, exactly, the Seahawks can have success with these 'explosive' passing plays.
"Well, you've got to call them, and when they're there, you've got to be able to take them. You have to take advantage of those 8- and 9-man boxes when you get them. We'll give ourselves more opportunity to do that. I think adding Kellen Winslow helps us do that. You know, stretching the middle of the field, he can take pressure off the guys on the outside. The receivers do have to step up. They're going to have one-on-one opportunities out there, they have to win those opportunities, and you know, obviously the quarterback has to be able to throw on time, he has to be able to throw accurately, and that's something that we're working on and making progress on."
Salk pressed more - specifically, how do the Seahawks prepare their receivers and tight ends to do this?
"It's the scheme, number one. We have to put them in positions to be successful. We have to understand what the matchups are. We have to know who we're putting out there, against which defensive back, and which one gives us the better advantage. And, again, call those right plays in those right situations."
Certainly, with Sidney Rice healthy, the downfield explosive passing game has a better chance, but Bevell also brought up Kris "Bull" Durham as a potential factor. The conversation then moves to Golden Tate:
"I think he's made a great improvement since he's been here. The one thing about Golden is that he's got really strong hands, and he catches the ball really well. He's really good after the catch, once the ball is in his hands, so we have to be able to find situations to get the ball into his hands, - I can remember a number of plays where he made the catch and then the run after it was really exciting - but we have to be able to put him in situations to get him the ball, and some of the things he's working on right now are route running, his understanding of coverage, being able to make the adjustments at the right time."
This is one thing that has been so obvious, and yet hasn't really shown up on Sundays. We all have visions of Percy Harvin when we imagine Golden Tate's role in the offense, and considering Bevell was calling the plays in 2009 and 2010 for Harvin that had him rushing as a running back out of the backfield, featured on bubble screens, end arounds, you name it, I would have thought this would have shown up more in the Seahawks' offense last year ... but it didn't.
Tate had an encouraging year, especially in the final five games where he averaged about 3.6 catches and 42 yards per game - not eye popping numbers, but he seems to be moving in the right direction. Still, he wasn't heavily featured in the offense and his use wasn't overly creative. That may, hopefully, change going forward as the Seahawks' offense waxes toward functionality, balance and efficiency instead of doggedly installing the run game and treading water with the passing attack. On the surface it appears Bevell has that vision for Golden in mind, but putting that on the field though is a different matter. The Seahawks, I think, were much more concentrated on developing the run game and keeping things simple. The injuries on the offensive line and the youth everywhere on the roster didn't help things. Seattle is trending older now, has brought in a few veterans that could play key roles (on the line and with Kellen Winslow), and hopefully will be more able to execute the gameplan.
The conversation moved to Sidney Rice and his ability to be or become a 'number one receiver.' Bevell had an interesting response.
"I'm fortunate to have the years of experience with him - going back to 2009 where he had the best season that he's had. So, that's kind of what I remember him as, and what I'd like him to get back to. His health is huge - he was able to have both of his shoulders fixed this offseason, which is really big for him - ultimately though it all goes back to him. He has to be able to do the rehab, he has to be willing to get his strength back, to get his size back, to get his legs back under him.
Putting the onus on Rice to stay healthy.
"If he does that, he definitely has the capability to be a number one. His catch radius is very similar to Larry Fitzgerald, down in Arizona, I mean, he can flat out catch the ball. You throw it in his direction, he can get it. It doesn't matter how high it is, how off-mark it is - he can get to the ball."
"He's a pretty good route runner, for how big and tall he is - he can sink his weight and get in and out of cuts, so he definitely has the potential, but right now I think it's all up to him to be able to come back from what he's going through. There may be some routes and some things that we might not ask him to do this year - that we've maybe asked him to do in the past, that's something that we're evaluating right now."
I like that last part in particular - the fact that the Seahawks will be evaluating a way to possibly limit situations where he'll be taking big hits or hanging him out to dry. It's not that they'll take those plays out of the playbook, but just be a little smarter with personnel in terms of utilizing their strengths - in Rice's case, his forte is in making tough, contested catches on the sideline and endzone. First downs and touchdowns.
I always cringed last year when the Hawks would run Rice out on a bubble screen or quick slant in or something of that effect where he's going to be colliding face first with a linebacker. Ask Rice to do what he does best - win one-on-one matchups downfield or win jump balls. Give Golden Tate the ball on screens, or Leon Washington, or Marshawn Lynch - guys that can take contact, better. Or at all. It might be a sad reality that Rice is injury prone, but there are ways to mitigate it and protect one of your most talented players.
I'll follow up later this afternoon with Bradley's comments and some of my thoughts...