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Is Pete Carroll a defensive backs guru?

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Tuesday we took a look at the different position groups for the Seattle Seahawks in regards to which groups have the most upside and downside potential for the 2019 season. The answers given by fans varied across nearly the entire spectrum of positions, with debate running deep between multiple positions. However, one position group which was hotly debated in both categories was the defensive backfield, where the team has completed the overhaul of the Legion of Boom.

Gone is every member of the original Legion of Boom, and a whole host of youngsters are fighting for the right to take over the spots that have been left. Richard Sherman is now a leader in the secondary for the rival San Francisco 49ers, Earl Thomas is sporting purple for the Baltimore Ravens, Kam Chancellor is retired, Brandon Browner is incarcerated and Jeremy Lane, DeShawn Shead and Byron Maxwell are not currently on a roster.

So, while Pete Carroll put together a unit that had the top scoring defense in the NFL for four straight seasons, including a pass defense DVOA rankings of 3, 1, 3 and 3 during those years. However, in the three years since his defenses have finished with DVOA rankings against the pass of 13, 13 and 14, which is barely above the middle of the pack. That includes 2016, when Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas were healthy for the majority of the season, and it includes 2017 when those players were together for the first half of the year.

That leads to the question of what to expect from the secondary in 2019. We have all seen the splits for the defense against the pass over the first few games of 2018 with and without Earl Thomas, so it would be no surprise if the secondary struggles. On the flip side, the secondary is overflowing with youth and potential, so it could perform at a high level. However, is that what fans should expect?

The original Legion of Boom took time to develop. Thomas and Chancellor stepped in and played right away as rookies, but struggled at times because performing in the NFL is difficult. Brandon Browner took over a starting spot upon arriving in Seattle, but that was only after he had spent five years honing his skills in Canada. Richard Sherman didn’t step foot on the field until halfway through his rookie season, and even then he only earned a starting role as a result of injuries to those in front of him.

That said, there can be no questioning the success the Legion of Boom enjoyed on the field in its heyday, and the hardware it accumulated off of it. Carroll was responsible for those players being on the roster, for putting them in the system in which they experienced that success and at least in part for training them in how to play within his system.

It’s possible that one could argue that perhaps Kris Richard should get more credit, as he was the position coach responsible for those players. On the flip side of that argument it’s hard to argue how much of a positive effect Richard may have had as he was in charge for 2016 and 2017, when the defensive passing DVOA ranked outside the top ten both years. Add in the fact that the Dallas Cowboys defense improved from 18th by DVOA in 2017 all the way to 16th in 2018 with Richard in place as Defensive Passing Game Coordinator, and this seems an unlikely factor.

There’s no definitive answer one way or another on this question, as obviously it simply comes down to what arguments one would like to hold in order to support the position held. Either Pete Carroll is a defensive backs whisperer who can coax high level secondary play out of a sack of potatoes, or he’s a guy who happened to be at the right place at the right time and struck the lottery when he was able to pair a first round safety with a couple of Day 3 players for the prime of their careers.

In any case, this is a subject that will, I’m sure, be discussed ad nauseum this coming season as the team looks to see if Carroll can replicate the successes of the Legion of Boom from the group of youngsters battling it out for the starting roles. In the meantime, I’ll be going through a series of posts Thursday and Friday on this subject as we discuss it further and dig up more arguments for both sides of the debate.