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Sam’s Film Room: What Ken Norton Jr. means to the Seahawks

Oakland Raiders v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

With the Seattle Seahawks hiring Mike Solari as their offensive line coach, Brian Schottenheimer as their offensive coordinator, and Ken Norton Jr. as their defensive coordinator, I wanted to take a look at the possible schemes that these coaches could bring to Seattle. I looked at Solari last Thursday and in this article I wanted to look at Norton Jr.

Coaching History

Norton played college football at UCLA and was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 1988 NFL Draft. He played with the Dallas Cowboys for six seasons and then the San Francisco 49ers for seven seasons. During his playing career, he won the Super Bowl on three different occasions (XXVII, XXVIII, and XXIX).

After he retired, he joined Pete Carroll’s staff at the University of Southern California. Here is the summary of positions he’s coached both in college and in the NFL:

  • USC Linebackers coach from 2004-2008*
  • USC Assistant Head Coach and Linebackers Coach in 2009*
  • Seattle Seahawks Linebackers Coach from 2010-2014*
  • Oakland Raiders Defensive Coordinator from 2015-2017

If you follow Pete Carroll’s career, the only position where Ken Norton Jr. has not coached alongside him was when he joined Jack Del Rio’s staff in Oakland. After his three seasons with the Raiders, he was fired after the team lost to the New England Patriots last November.

Norton Jr.’s Rankings

Here are the rankings of the Oakland Raiders’ defense over the last five seasons pulled from

Oakland Raiders DVOA Rankings (@SamuelRGold)

As a comparison, here are the rankings of the Seattle Seahawks’ defense over the last five seasons as well.

Seattle Seahawks DVOA Rankings (@SamuelRGold)

Obviously, the Seahawks defense and organization as a whole has had more success over the past five seasons, but the Raiders didn’t exactly improve when Norton became their coordinator in 2015.

Norton Jr. in Oakland

Based on this the first question I had when I started doing research for this piece was why Norton was fired by the Raiders. To answer this question I reached out to Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis), who is a film analyst for and has extensive knowledge of the Raiders’ system. Here are his main reasons for what he believes happened:

While the first part of this quote doesn’t exactly calm my nerves, I feel like the last part of the quote is actually pretty important for his role with the Seahawks.

Norton Jr. in Seattle

First, and foremost, this is Pete Carroll’s team and specifically his defense. That much has been clear ever since he arrived in Seattle. Norton’s role will be a part of Carroll’s vision for how the defense will function and after working together for 11 seasons over the course of his career, Carroll clearly trusts him to manage it on a daily routine. Based on this signing, I don’t think the Seahawks’ will change drastically from last season.

For those that need a reminder, Seattle’s primary line up in an “4-3 Under” front. I included some GIFs below, but the gist of this front is that there are four defensive lineman with the three-tech defensive tackle lining up on the weakside of the formation. The “Over” front, on the other hand, has the three-tech defensive tackle lining up on the strongside of the formation. The Seahawks actually use both fairly equally but it really depends on the offense they face.

Each of these defenses has their specialty and the main rule in coaching is “Coach what you can coach” but schematically the “Under” front is really good against zone blocking schemes. This is the case since the alignment of the strongside nose tackle allows him to penetrate more easily into the backfield which helps him shut down these plays.

The “Over” front is better against gap/power schemes because it forces the pulling guard to cover a larger distance in the backfield which gives the defense more time and better angles to defend. In my opinion, the multiplicity in fronts will not change just like it didn’t change when Kris Richard became the defensive coordinator.

Speaking of Kris Richard, when he became the DC he actually really liked blitzing Bobby Wagner through the A-gap, or the gap between the guard and the center. This is something Dan Quinn, for example, didn’t do nearly as often. Maybe Norton Jr. will bring his own flair to the defense just like Richard did, but beyond that, I don’t truthfully think the Seahawks will change that much.

What do you think? Were you satisfied by this hire? Or were you expecting somebody else?


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