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How Jim Mora Ran Practice and How Pete Carroll Does Not

Remember Tiger Mountain?

Maybe you do. Maybe you have lost that neural pathway. I wouldn't blame you.

Jim Mora challenged his players to sprint up Tiger Mountain. It made for headlines like "Chasing Mora to the top," and "Seahawks coach Jim Mora finds new mountain to conquer."

Sprinting up Tiger Mountain was Mora's idea of a novel way to promote conditioning. We may never know if it is a good exercise or one that wins publicity but damages bodies. Sprinting up Tiger Mountain represented Mora's attitude towards training camp: intensity, bracing exercise and the strong surviving. Drills were hard fought. Players clashed with players. Scrimmages were intense even scrappy. There was a sense that practice was the job and play the wage. Spun just right, that sounds almost noble. Guys working hard. Guys competing. Guys giving their all just to make it.

Pete Carroll runs practice very differently. I have never heard him say it in so many words, but Carroll seems to share a belief with former head coach Chuck Knox: that intense, punishing practices between teammates only doubles the damage to the team.

Mora whipped everyone into a frenzy. Practice was full of teammates beating down teammates. Full speed pass rush drills and blocks that produced resounding "pops!" Pops and scraps and the sounds of collisions and struggle filled the VMAC. I mined last season's training camp reports and the evidence is everywhere.

We had this:


Right tackle Ray Willis vs. left defensive end Lawrence Jackson. These two tangled twice, and Willis came out on top each time – literally.

First, they collided on a running play and Jackson had to leave the field to have his left ankle taped. Later, in the one-on-one pass rush drill, Willis flung Jackson to the ground. Before the tussle could escalate, teammates separated the two.

"It’s just football," Jackson said. "Nothing serious. Hopefully it’s not a regular thing, but things like that just happen in football."

And this:

RB Justin Forsett put a lick on LB David Hawthorne during one-on-one blitz pick-up drills. It was the kind of hit that makes you stop and take a step back, not just as an observer, but as a blitzer because that's what happened to Hawthorne. Forsett knocked Hawthorne backward into offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, no small feat since Hawthorne's got a reputation for his hitting ability.

And this:

Pass rush drills were interesting today. Rob Sims and Cory Redding went against each other for the first time, and it was worth the price of the ticket. Sims won the first one, basically shucking an off-balanced Redding to the ground. But Redding came back during the second battle to get the best of Sims.

Sims really has looked solid during first few days of camp, and is playing with a lot of confidence.

The media tends to spotlight big hits, but this isn't a second hand recounting. I was there. Mora's practices were full of players getting leveled, players getting knocked around and players scrapping. It was his style. It was entertaining. It was ascending Tiger Mountain again and again.

Carroll emphasizes what I call situational drills. Instead of endless smashing and bashing and proving who's the alpha dog, teammates are working with teammates in simulated game situations. Linebackers work in groups of three coordinating gap containment. No contact. Defensive lineman practice stunts against other defensive lineman. Defensive backs adjust to route combinations and perfect their spacing. No one is popping one another. No one is winning. The goal is coordination, timing and efficiency. Awareness. Preparedness. There is no emphasis on killing each other. No emphasis on overmatching your teammate. Players aren't competing for top billing in Farnsworth's Matchup of the Day. Practice is the preparation and Sunday the ascent.

The human body is not impervious. You can break it down and it will build back up, but it takes something away. If you press and press, something breaks that doesn't build back up. Every intense collision risks injury, and the more often a player risks injury, the more injuries the player will eventually suffer. Many injuries, like high ankle sprains and dislocated shoulders, increase the chance of recurrence by fundamentally changing the structure of the injured person's body. Ligaments attenuate. Muscles tear. Football is a brutal sport. Taking a half-season's worth of collisions out of training camp might just save Seattle from another season wracked by injuries.

It might not make headlines. It might not be noble in a working class way. It might not fulfill the three yards and a cloud of dust ideal of smashmouth football. But coordinating to win rather than competing to play is smart football, and forgetting Tiger Mountain might be the best move of the off-season.