Tom Cable was on 710ESPN's Bob and Groz show last week and had some interesting comments, especially as they relate to OTAs and Mini-Camps, so I transcribed parts of it in case you didn't get a chance to listen. The Seahawks' final Mini-Camp/OTA is going on this week before the veterans get a month or so off (Rookies will attend the rookie symposium at some point), and Cable described what these Mini-Camps and practices are all about.
"People are probably really familiar with Spring football that goes on at the University of Washington, or over in Pullman at WSU, and OTAs are really the Spring Football version of Pro Football. It's all teaching. You're teaching your scheme, and getting it installed, and you're teaching your fundamentals and techniques it takes to execute those schemes. It's really just a major, major teaching time, so that's where its importance comes in for us. For me, it's the first time we'll have the chance to do it with the lockout last year (denying Seattle the chance), so we had to do it right at the start of the season. We never had the chance to go through this phase. But, it's been really good for us."
I think NFL practices, and just football practices in general, are a little different than most sports - with individual instruction much more limited just based on the number of players involved, the number of schemes and plays being implemented, and the relatively few days in the offseason given for coaches to teach. Teams lost the ability to really teach technique last season with the lockout, mostly having to skip over that part just to ensure schemes and plays were even installed at all. If you've ever watched a Seahawks' practice, it moves quickly, and frenetically, so coaches taking time to show players actual nuts-and-bolts hand placement, footwork, etc, might happen less frequently than you'd think, especially during the season. That's where OTAs and Mini-Camps come in.
He continued, "For my group, the best example is breaking all those blocks down. They know what a combination block is, and they get that, but you have to learn how to do it. So, learning who you gotta block, and how to do it is really important here. This is kind of the 'how' part, and the 'how' time."
In recently re-watching the excellent season retrospective videos that Nate has put together, this concept really, really stuck out to me. In a large percentage of the sacks and hurries the Seahawks' offensive line gave up in 2011, rather than physically getting beaten with speed or power, a lot of it looked more like confusion or late reactions that led to assignment breakdowns. The idea that the line unit, going forward into 2012 - whoever it ends up settling on - might work more as a team, better know their assignments, better know their calls, and better know each other, well, that's exciting.
Cable went on, also addressing concerns with James Carpenter's recovery from his knee injury, "You look at guys like John Moffitt, Lemuel Jeanpierre, and even Breno Giacomini a little bit, they got it all (thrown at them) for the first time last year. Now, they get to go back through and take it step by step this time, and their improvement, and the way they move forward in terms of understanding it, and executing it, is not even close to where it was last year. (Missing out on offseason stuff due to his injury) is a big loss for James Carpenter, and he'll have a lot to make up, to catch up once he's able to."
Another variable, in addition to the nuts and bolts work by the line together on their fundamentals, that I'm hoping is a boon to the Seahawks run game is the addition of Robert Turbin. Doug Farrar reported that Turbin looked good at practice today, noting that he "continues to impress. Really fast for a big guy, tremendous agility inside, gets skinny through the gap, as the geeks say." Cable talked about the Turbin addition and what it meant for the offense.
"The biggest thing that we wanted to do was have a change of pace. We were able to do that in Oakland, we were able to do that in Atlanta," noted Cable. "When you gotta go defend Marshawn Lynch, and he's so violent, so he's going to get all those tough, hard yards, and then all of a sudden you put another big guy in there that runs violent, if you don't get him on the ground, he can finish. He can hit a home run. Robert Turbin is extremely fast. I think changing up the speed on the defense is going to benefit both those guys and help us all around."
On the other side of the coin, Cable addressed the issues in pass protection from last season. "I'm personally disappointed in how we protected the quarterback," he said. "We've made it a big emphasis to clean it up, and it starts with the system. Everybody understanding it. When to redirect. When not to. How to re-spot the box. All those things that go on in the middle of a play.
"[It's important to] get everyone on the same page, because so many of our sacks last year were that problem - not being on the same page - and if you knock 20 sacks off your quarterback, and hits-to-sacks are 2:1, you're talking about fewer 60 times he gets hit, so that's a big deal for us, and for me personally, just to clean that up. I don't know that [the quarterback competition] affects any individual group right now, because we're putting it in right, from the start. We're doing it step-by-step, and regardless of which quarterback is there, they're going to all have it, and say it the same way, and see it the same way."
Again - it's clear to see, when you just watch the offensive line block, that many of the mistakes made were due to over-thinking, slow reacting, or misdiagnosing a rusher. In one-on-one situations, I think the o-line actually fared pretty well. It's picking up blitzes, changing assignments at the line, these types of things that the Seahawks can realy improve on.
Cable also addressed the importance that each player know several positions on the line. "One of the things that you got to witness last year, that was kind of a philosophical thing, was to prepare [each guy on the line] to play a couple spots. I could take Max Unger and put him at either guard spot, it wouldn't make a difference to us. I could probably take Russell Okung and move him from left tackle over to right, and it wouldn't matter to us. Most of the group - I'd say probably 90% of it, they're all going to learn two positions, so if you get into that situation that we got into last year, you can plug those holes and not have it be detrimental."
The conversation moved to the tight end position, something we've been interested in around here the past few weeks with the acquisition of Kellen Winslow. Cable was asked about the differences between Winslow and Zach Miller, and he repled, "I think they're kind of opposite ends of the spectrum at tight end. One of them runs a lot faster than the other guy - Kellen has a lot more speed than Zach would have. Zach is more of a physical presence, going to take the big hits and the tight window things. But, they both have the ability to block, and Zach, more as an in-line blocker and Kellen, more as an on the move guy. So, they're opposites, but I think they're really, really going to offset each other well."
Why wasn't Zach Miller utilized in the pass game more last season? "It was not a secret (that we left Zach in to block a lot last year), and I think you have to do what you need to do in order to succeed," replied Cable, "and when you're up against it, you kind of just keep plugging holes and move forward, so we needed him to do some things that, you know, maybe aren't as much fun for him, but I think he did a great job with it, and I think he'll like our development this year, because it's going to help him."
This has been said for a few years running now, but let's hope it plays out in 2012.