One of the more interesting tidbits to come out of the first week of Seahawks' OTAs was a quote by Cary Williams, as he talked about adjusting to the Seahawks' style of secondary play.
"They talk about being more patient," Williams said, per the Seahawks' website. "There's a lot of intricate things that are different than other places. They're more focused on the details, like I said, and it's an emphasis on those things and making sure you're focused on those small details on every snap."
The Seahawks' are most well-known for their defensive secondary, and their pass defense has been historically good the last two seasons. They have three All Pro players in Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas, and their prototype for cornerback is starting to become a league-wide trend -- bigger, more physical, longer, etc. We saw this in the draft. We saw this in free agency, where Byron Maxwell went from a sixth round pick out of Clemson to one of the most highly paid corners in the league.
Still, there are few, if any, teams that can replicate what Seattle has done and their ability to seemingly plug and play different guys over the years has been truly remarkable. I've thought for some time that much of this had to do with Pete Carroll and his staff's ability to teach their techniques and develop their players so they could succeed in their system. Find guys that fit from a physical and mental point of view (long, fast, aggressive, confident), then teach them closely in executing what they need to do to succeed.
So, this line by Williams on the "intricate" things the Seahawks coach, the "small details of every snap," really stood out to me.
Do they teach the exact footwork? Do they teach precise hand-placement? Do they ask their players to meticulously nail down the exact, explicit fundamental techniques needed to run their particular system? I think so. More than other teams? Sounds like it, based on Williams' description. And, Williams has been with three other teams previously.
Just like the "hawk-tackle" emphasis they made last year, I think Seattle's coaches are drilling these exact, specific techniques into their cornerbacks with such repetition that it becomes muscle memory.
Pete Carroll boasted about this to Brock and Danny on 710 ESPN back in late 2013, when the duo asked Carroll how the Seahawks have managed to plug mid-rounders into their system with such success. "If you guys could appreciate it," he said, "they all look the same, somewhat."
Carroll said that first and foremost, when scouting potential cornerbacks, "One, we want fast guys, and long guys, that's what we're looking for."
"Then," added Carroll, "they've been indoctrinated into the system."
Indoctrinated. Carroll is a guy that chooses his words carefully. Indoctrinated typically has a negative connotation, but in this context, it makes complete sense. It's why Seattle's corners all "look the same" somewhat.
"Kris Richard and Rocky Seto have done a fantastic job of training them," said Carroll. "They're really, really, strict."
"The way they step, the way they challenge at the line of scrimmage, the way they finish in the things that we teach," said Carroll. "This is a long, long process, to get these guys to where they are. But, now they're in the system, and it doesn't matter who steps in and plays. It's impressive.
"So, it's a process, but it's kind of a systems thing for us."
A systems thing. It's a process. A long, long process. It doesn't matter who steps in and plays.
Jayson Jenks of the Seattle Times wrote about the Seahawks' step-kick technique of press coverage the other day, something that I hadn't heard about specifically in the past. It's fascinating, and illustrates what Cary Williams was talking about.
Jenks was writing about Tye Smith, Seattle's 6th round pick, and said:
The Seahawks teach a press coverage technique called the step-kick, which is pretty much just like it sounds. At the snap of the ball, while a receiver shimmies at the line, the Seahawks want their corners to step with one foot and wait until the receiver starts moving up the field. A corner pretty much has to stand there, like a defender in basketball watching a guy crossover and fake but not going anywhere.
What that requires more than anything is patience, and it is something that most of Seattle's cornerbacks have struggled with in the past, from Tharold Simon to Byron Maxwell to DeShawn Shead. It will take Smith time to get comfortable trusting the technique and himself, and on day one he looked raw. But that isn't unusual or unexpected, and the Seahawks have a good track record of teaching corners that skill.
Richard Sherman taught a young defensive back the basics of this kind of thing here:
Carroll is a former college defensive back and his area of expertise is defensive back play. He does his part in coaching players up, but relies on his assistants to teach the system as well.
It's not a coincidence that Pete Carroll's defensive backs coach over the past several seasons has been Kris Richard, and it's no wonder he's now the new Defensive Coordinator. Richard, along with Rocky Seto, have been the guys that he relies on daily to proselytize his brand of play to the Seahawks players. Richard is a former USC player and a former USC coach under Pete Carroll, and Seto has been with Carroll since he was a grad assistant. Both are highly respected by their players and have worked in tandem to get Seattle's corners programmed to how the Seahawks want them to play.
"Cary's doing everything," Carroll said on Tuesday. "He looks very much the part of the kind of play that we anticipate on his first day against somebody. But still, he gets it. He's smart, he's really dedicated, he hasn't missed a trick. He's been on everything.
"It's early and all that, but I anticipate he's going to play like we saw on film, if not better. That would be good enough to help us play winning football."