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Revisiting Seahawks SPARQ; NFL Super Regional Combine hits Houston


It's that time of year again - the NFL Combine is just around the corner, the Draft just past that. The Seahawks are a Draft-centric organization, looking to cultivate a strong 'in-house' culture by building the majority of the team using their picks and rookie free agency, only looking to veteran free agency to augment the core. Seattle, now Super Bowl Champions and undisputed winners of the 2013 NFL season, will be looking to get better; John Schneider and Pete Carroll will do this by filling spots created by free agency and the salary cap, plus build depth and get Bigger, Faster, and Stronger.

As you may remember, last season Davis Hsu and I developed an adjusted score for what we think might resemble the Seahawks' physical testing metrics, and tracked much of the Seahawks' draft class using these scores. We called it Seahawks SPARQ. Here's the background, from Davis:


A couple of comments over the past few years triggered my thought process on this series. After the Seahawks drafted TE Luke Willson, Schneider said that Luke was the "2nd best tester" among TEs in the 2013 Draft Class. That type of phrasing reminded me that, after the 2012 Draft concluded, Schneider referred to DE Greg Scruggs as the "9th best tester among the defensive lineman."

This made it clear that the Seahawks did rank Draft players in each position group by athleticism, but it made me wonder - how did they rank them? How much weight do the Seahawks give to speed in relation to upper body power, lower body power, or agility?

A couple of years ago I went to a WinForever event at the VMAC with Danny Kelly, and another WinForever event with Scott Enyeart. I have been to two or three of these events, and they are designed for high school coaches. I am not a high school football coach, and I can't remember all the details, but I do remember that Pete Carroll was promoting a tool, for coaches, used to measure athleticism amongst their football players.

Pete Carroll and his WinForever staff used the Nike SPARQ rating. SPARQ is an acronym for Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction, and Quickness.

The Nike SPARQ Rating has been tweaked over the last ten years, and was developed inside Nike. I believe Peter Clay Carroll was involved in the development. In the early days of SPARQ, Carroll was the highest profile coach in college football. Carroll was consumed with recruiting the best athletes and football players in America to USC, and he was very successful in that endevour.

The SPARQ team included Andy Bark, Peter Ruppe and Matt James. Per Scott Enyeart, Andy Bark developed the Elite 11 High School QB Camps, of which Carroll is highly involved. Peter Ruppe is a famous Nike sneaker marketer (including Brand Jordan), and Matt James is an athletic trainer, and all three of these men have ties to Pete Carroll and WinForever. I have seen Ruppe and James speak, in-person, at WinForever events.

Further, Seahawks Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Carlisle has had a big part in the development of the SPARQ program, - as Scott Enyeart put it - Carlisle is the "Master Trainer" for SPARQ, and likely works in conjunction with Nike to design Seattle's offseason/in-season program.

According to this Nike SPARQ Offseason Training Program Manual:

The Nike Football SPARQ Training Pre-Season Program was developed in conjunction with Chris Carlisle, the current Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Prior to coming to the Seahawks, Carlisle was an integral part of Pete Carroll's staff at USC and is credited with developing the explosive style of play that enabled the Trojans to become the most dominant program in college football over the past decade.

So, while I'm simply dot-connecting, it seems very likely that the Seahawks use some variation of the SPARQ system, not only for their 'testing' numbers, but also for their offseason training. It's a big part of their program, and likely a big reason they've seemed to focus so closely on the 'rare' types of athletes in the Draft.

This system works well for Seattle: Carroll and Carlisle are always looking for that explosive play, and are matched up with John Schneider and his Al Davis style of evaluation - both Schneider and Director of College Scouting Scot McCloughan are part of the Ron Wolf/Al Davis coaching tree that espouses the 'bigger, faster, stronger' philosophies.

Because Pete Carroll is obsessed with creating big, powerful, game-altering explosive plays, he's seeking explosive players in an effort to create them.

For their part, Nike, seeking to extend their brand, and add value to athletes and coaches, designed the SPARQ rating to measure athleticism. Think of it as an SAT score for Football Players. This "SAT" score, or SPARQ rating, does not trump the evaluation of game tape, a person's character and competitiveness, interviews with coaches, and medicals. It is just another tool for coaches to use, and perhaps a tool for a player to measure his chances of becoming a "Division I" football player.

Every year, Nike holds SPARQ Combines across America in various cities, inviting high school athletes to come out and "get tested". About 1,000-1,500 athletes visit these events per city, and the highest rated athletes attend a final combine in Beaverton, Oregon (deep in Nike territory). The highest SPARQ scores per year, after tens of thousands of athletes are measured, are in the 130 to 150 range. At some camps, only a handful of players score above 100.

The SPARQ score is calculated using five inputs. There is no height or arm length component involved. The five components are:

(1) A Player's Weight (this "normalizes" the score, giving credit to a bigger player who displays similar movement skills to a smaller, quicker player)

(2) Forty Time

(3) 5-10-5 agility drill (some call this the 20 yard shuttle or short shuttle)

(4) Kneeling Powerball Toss (more on this later, but this replaces the bench press)

(5) Vertical Jump

SPARQ intends to blend an athlete's size, speed, explosive power, and agility into one metric.