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12 takeaways from the NFL combine press conferences

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NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Combine doesn’t just provide fans with the chance to see their draft crush run around in his underwear. Or talk about physically impossible body fat percentages. The Combine also serves as a valuable tool for gauging the direction of each NFL Franchise. Despite the caginess of John Schneider and Pete Carroll, their press conferences followed this rule. Fittingly, here are 12 (get it?!) takeaways from their combine comments:

#1: Front Office and coaching coherence

We are approaching the 10th season of the Schneider-Carroll era. Throughout that time, their working relationship has had the appearance of one of the league’s best. The equal standing of General Manager and Head Coach has made for playoff football in all but one season.

Where it goes wrong for teams is when the Front Office and the Coaching Staff aren’t aligned philosophically or communicating. “I’ve always believed the biggest dysfunction in NFL buildings is an inability for the coaching staff and the scouting staff to be on the same page philosophically consistently,” commented new Raiders GM Mike Mayock.

Schneider and Carroll’s media appearances proved that the two are very much still on the same page.

Indeed, when Schneider was asked a question about the importance of wide receiver drops, he confirmed through his answer how effective Seattle’s structure is: “You have to get buy-in from the coaching staff as to whether or not you think you can help the guy with his hand placement.” Such a consistent stream of communication and trust is conducive to winning football games.

#2: Draft alpha mentality

Seattle’s draft mentality has always been to get athletes who have overcome adversity. Yet the last two drafts seemed to place a heavier emphasis on grit and competitive toughness. The results have been promising. As Schneider remarked: “These last two classes have done a nice job.” He added: “There’s just a confidence that comes with being able to come on the field and play. Getting your reps, getting out there and building your confidence.”

The Seahawks now appear to be taking an arrogant alpha competitor who believes they can be the best. “We have to get to that point where we’re bringing in players that are willing to take somebody’s job, as ugly as that sounds, but they have that level of confidence to them.”

Schneider admitted that “some of the mistakes that I’ve made along the way are maybe not bringing some guys that were ready to take, and I’m just saying, for instance, they’re looking at Kam Chancellor like “Holy smokes that’s Kam Chancellor, it’s Earl Thomas, it’s Richard Sherman, how am I gonna make this team?”” Misses like C.J. Prosise feel soft.

Getting back to the “Always Compete” philosophy and ensuring it takes place is an excellent goal. The combine interviews will provide the Front Office with a great chance to assess the character of each prospect. “We’re constantly trying to figure out who the person is,” Schneider imparted.

#3: Owner Jody Allen

Big, and fantastic, news emerged about franchise ownership over the past couple of days too. After much speculation of Jody Allen, the late, great Paul Allen’s sister, wanting to sell the team, it’s now clear that the Seahawks will remain in the Allen family.

Schneider shed light on the situation: “Ownership’s been unreal. We lost Paul, we all miss Paul a ton. We’ve been working with Jody now, his sister, she’s been amazing.”

Pete Carroll also enthused about Jody:

Rather than Seattle dealing with an overly meddlesome billionaire—just look at the situation in Miami—the team is instead staying with an owner who will be excellent. Paul was a huge reason for the success of the Seahawks. Be it smashing the Pete Carroll hire out of the park, funding the team heavily or being the right level of involved.

The involvement of Jody is a large reason behind Schneider’s confidence in Seattle as a free agent destination: “We look at it like we’re an elite place. We’re one of those teams that wants to be a consistent championship contender each time. We just think we’re an attractive place.”

#4: Frank Clark is getting tagged

It’s hardly breaking news that Frank Clark is going to be in Seattle for 2019. Yet, with time running out for a long-term deal, news that Clark is going to be tagged for the year at $17million was all-but-confirmed by Schneider and Carroll.

“Frank and I, we have a great relationship. Communication’s been great. There’s a strong level of trust between the two of us. That would be the update,” commented Schneider. His coyness was pressed by “Do you expect him to be a Seahawk in 2019?”, to which he responded “Yeah.” And then reporters didn’t allow him to wriggle free, asking “Do you expect to use the franchise tag?” Schneider answered; “I don’t know that yet,” before later joking; “it’s been 10 years, Olindo Mare. I actually talked John Lynch into doing it with their kicker.”

Carroll was the same, affectionately calling Seattle’s most talented pass-rusher “Frankie”.

#5: K.J. Wright probably gone

The Seahawks have been snakebitten in the past third contracts. The affection Schneider has for K.J. Wright was clear: “He’s been incredible for us…When he played he was phenomenal. We love him.” However, Wright seems unlikely to re-sign in Seattle. “We have some tough decisions coming up,” warned a visibly reluctant Schneider, “[Wright] had a rough year with a knee injury.”

“We sit down with all our unrestricted guys. Talk to them. We have a personal talk before they get to free agency so they know what’s shaking. We’ll meet with all of our guys down here—I mean all their representatives right. So, by the end of the week, we’ll have a better feel for where his market lies.” Schneider’s last sentence hints of the Seahawks being less willing to pay as much as other teams in Free Agency.

Wright, a former pro-bowl inside linebacker, is far more likely to sign for more money elsewhere. The play of Mychal Kendricks was excellent last season. Seattle were more enthused about his return, with his legal status obviously a key concern:

#6: Fluker over Sweezy

The most excited Carroll looked at the podium was talk about Seattle being “established up front.” “Ain’t that cool?” he gushed. “That hasn’t been the topic for a while, I’m thrilled to hear you say that. It did take place. We had tremendous growth.”

“It’s an exciting upcoming season for us, in that regard. For the first time in a couple of years, we feel like we’re really on track and we have a chance to improve on something that we did well last year, running the football. And, as the season wore on, we protected for Russell a lot better. The start was terrible. And we couldn’t get away from those first two games fast enough,” Carroll continued. Carroll also praised Mike Solari, saying the offensive line coach “did a fantastic job.”

Reading in between the lines, it was apparent that the Seahawks rate D.J. Fluker over J.R. Sweezy. Though Carroll lauded “they really fit well,” and “we want both those guys back,” if it came to a choice between the two in free agency, Fluker would be the guy.

“I’m counting on him, yeah, I’m counting on him,” Carroll said of Fluker re-signing. “He did a great job last year.”

Meanwhile, Carroll mentioned promising news on back-up guard Jordan Simmons “[he’s] doing fine. As a matter of fact, I saw Jordan a couple of days ago. He looks great, really positive, upbeat.” Simmons, if he can stay healthy, showed he was of a starting quality. The third-year guard would comfortably replace a departing Sweezy. Don’t also forget sophomore Jamarco Jones, whose tape was promising before a preseason ankle injury

#7: No 2019 Running Back #1…yet

Rookie Rashaad Penny played 51 of 51 possible college games. His injuries in 2018 were therefore a psychological hurdle, a factor often overlooked. Football players are humans too. “He’s never been hurt before, so as a rookie it was kinda hard for him to figure things out,” explained Schneider. Carroll elaborated: “he hadn’t had a lot of experience with having to rehab and sit out and all of that. So; there was some coaching up for us to do with him, to keep him on track and encourage and timeframes, and focused, and all of that. He was frustrated by that, like a guy should be.”

Carroll thinks Penny will “be better for it” and, despite being full of exuberant praise for Chris Carson, views the running back room as an open competition between the duo. “1-2 punch. I don’t know who’s 1 and who’s 2, it doesn’t matter to me. I thought both guys did a really good job this year.” If Penny can stay healthy and improve his structure within plays, Seattle’s running back room has league-best potential.

#8: Doug Baldwin surgeries

It was clear Doug Baldwin wasn’t healthy last season. That impacted the Seahawks’ passing game, with David Moore and Jaron Brown taking significant snaps. We have now learned just how hurt Baldwin was. Schneider told reporters that Baldwin had “surgeries.”

“He’s making progress, working at it hard,” Carroll said of Baldwin. “He’s working at the facility regularly. His spirits are good about it. He’s got some work to do, he’s got a shoulder and a knee thing that he’s working on. He got some stuff fixed up.”

As it pertains to the NFL Draft, taking a wide receiver seems like a smart course of action. Baldwin is now 30 and a situation where someone like Brown gets snaps is not ideal.

#9: Will Dissly limited

Another injured Seahawk in 2018 was Will Dissly, who tore his patellar tendon. It was a shame because he started the season so well. Stated Carroll: “Will had a really good start to the season last year. He came out, probably surprised everybody that he would be so dynamic with the ball in his hands, yrun after catch. He fit us exactly the way that we had hoped.”

Though “Will’s working really hard,” the 270lb versatile tight end is going to be limited heading in to the offseason.

“There’s nothing that’s really in question other than the timeline for Will Dissly, we’ve just got to wait him out,” and “he’s going to take a little longer than the other guys” Carroll surmised.

The fact that Carroll mentioned “Will and George and Eddy Dickson,” though didn’t comment on Nick Vannett as part of the tight end room, is revealing. A slip of the tongue is possible, but mentioning a right tackle tight end convert over Vannett seems significant.

In Draft on tape, I’ve covered the possibility of Seattle taking another big tight end to hedge Dissly. Vannett has seemingly lost the faith of the coaching staff, and his blocking was mediocre anyway despite that being a big reason for his third-round selection. The Seahawks drafting a blocker who can catch, rather than the tell of George Fant, makes a lot of sense.

Could Seattle trade Vannett for a 7th? A 6th? It’s unlikely, but they may be exploring such possibilities—particularly given their lack of draft capital.

#10: Earl is gone

We knew this, but Earl Thomas is done as a Seahawk. Schneider hasn’t even spoken to him, responding to “Have you had any communication with Earl Thomas?” with a simple “No.”

“He’s a free agent, he’s gonna test free agency, and we’ll see what happens. We have a good relationship with his agents and stuff,” Schneider concluded. Carroll followed a similar narrative: “It’s a great opportunity for Earl. To have the free agent status now…everybody looking at him knows that he’s got a tremendous high end...it’s an exciting time for him. I’m hoping the very best for all of it, whatever happens. I’m excited to watch and see what he does.”

Testing free agency? Having free agent status? Excited to watch? He’s a Dallas Cowboy or San Francisco 49er. From a Seahawks perspective, hopefully the pair will drive the price up and Seattle gets a third-round comp pick for the future Hall of Fame Free Safety.

#11: Trade down happening

“We don’t necessarily have to go down all the time. But it’s kinda fun!” Schneider laughed about moving down in the draft. Yes, the certainty of all certainties is, in fact, a certainty. Asked on the chances of only having four picks, Schneider answered “I hope it’s slim.”

The challenge of having few selections was admitted by Schneider, but he finished with a positive: “Our guys do a great job on draft day of working their relationships around the league and then we’ll try and navigate where we’re going throughout the draft and targeting players and moving around.” The Seahawks are moving down, and then perhaps they will trade up for a Day 2 player they love—à la Tyler Lockett.

#12: Ficken is the kicker

Though Schneider revealed that Seattle had “talked to Sebastian’s guys,” it was clear from his comments on the kicker position that Sam Ficken is currently projected as the starting Seattle kicker. As Schneider disclosed, Seattle talks to all their undrafted free agents. Ficken is going to be given the best chance to get the job.

“Sam [Ficken] had a great workout with us. So, we wanted to get him in there as quick as we could and have that stable guy. And we’ll continue to look for someone to compete with him.” The last line is the real key. Ficken has the job unless he looks atrocious.