RENTON, Wash. – If you wanted to know how excited Pete Carroll is about his first NFL draft since 1999, all you had to do was follow his Twitter account.
In the days leading up to the 2010 NFL draft, the new coach and head of operations had been dropping "clues" to what direction the Seattle Seahawks might go with the sixth and 14th overall picks in Thursday's opening round. He started with a list of songs – "Soul Sacrifice" by Santana, "Let the Beat Build" by Lil' Wayne, "Back Door Man" by the Doors, "Smooth Criminal" by Michael Jackson, and "Jeremy" by Pearl Jam. Having established his eclectic musical tastes, Carroll moved on to the draft itself.
As Carroll and new general manager John Schneider spoke after their first draft day together concluded, they seemed very much in sync and at ease with each other. When looking for the right people to rebuild a team that's won nine games in the last two seasons, CEO Tod Leiweke had preached the importance of like minds in the front office after the sometimes contentious rule of former team president Tim Ruskell. It appears on the surface that all systems are a go.
At times during their media sessions Thursday night, they had the timing of a comedy team. Carroll busted on Schneider's bowling skills, quipping that he thought Green Bay – where Schneider previously worked as director of football operations – was the "bowling capital of the world." But he also mentioned Schneider's ability to coordinate it so that the pre-draft visits of the two players they selected were on the same trip. "John had this thing figured out a long time ago," Carroll said of his mysterious Twitter scavenger hunt. "That's why we were able to put out those hints and clues like we did."
The first order of business on this day was to shore up the team's two biggest needs – left tackle and the secondary. Seattle's offensive line had been an increasing problem, as the previous administration ignored glaring needs. With future Hall-of-Famer Walter Jones(notes) reportedly on the verge of retirement, Seattle needed the most pro-ready pass-blocker available, and they got him in Oklahoma State's Russell Okung. As new line coach Alex Gibbs told the media shortly after Okung's selection, "He's so committed to what he wants to do. He doesn't have a lot of fanfare. He doesn't have a lot of side views. He doesn't have a lot of contingencies. He's football."
Gibbs also said that there will be no orientation – the Seahawks were going to "throw him right in. He will be our starting left tackle – Day 1, hour one – and we will live with him through whatever the pain is. He's the line coach's dream all through the league. Thirty-one other line coaches are sad right now, because they know I got the one that is easiest to deal with – he wants to do it and doesn't have to be made to do it. Does that make sense real quickly?"
For Okung, it does. He knew of the Seahawks' interest in him from the time that Carroll visited the player and took him on an interesting recreational trip. "There was some extra time, and [Carroll] said, 'Hey, let's go bowling.' It didn't go too well on my end, but it was a great game."
By his own account, Okung rolled a 50, which represents a number just three higher than his total starts at Oklahoma State. (This was also where Carroll discovered Schneider's lack of bowling acumen.) The Cowboys led the Big 12 in rushing in each of the four seasons Okung played, and he twice held the nation's sack leader to no quarterback takedowns during the 2009 season.
Former Texas safety Earl Thomas was also aware that his new team had a bead on him, though he didn't get to roll any bowling balls with his future head coach.
As a hybrid defender with seemingly equal skills for the cornerback and free safety positions, Thomas wasn't sure where he'd best fit in the Seahawks' defensive schemes. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to play safety, but if they need me to play corner or something, I wouldn't have a problem doing that," Thomas said. "Right now, I'm just trying to see what's all going on. This is a new experience for me, and I'm just soaking it in right now."
Carroll turned off the funny when asked about the skills that allowed Thomas to intercept eight passes and deflect 10 more in 2009. "We couldn't help but see his playmaking ability," Carroll said, when asked what really stood out. "He ran under 4.4 on timing day at Texas and pulled up. It shows up in the field. There's a tremendous burst. He is also an all-around athlete and a really well-equipped athlete. He can work his body to get in front of guys and make plays and knock the ball down and make his interceptions. He played in the slot quite a bit in nickel stuff and was very effective there. Earl needs to be out where he has a lot of space and is covering a lot of ground – deep middle stuff, half-field coverage stuff – and we'll be able to drop him down on wide receivers anytime we want to."
Both Okung and Thomas come from humble beginnings, and both spoke of the ability to makes the lives of their families better. The grandson of a pastor, Thomas was at his local church in his hometown of Orange, Texas, with about 400 family members and friends when he made his first media call as an NFL player. His mother and father lost their home in Hurricane Rita in 2005, and they currently live with Thomas' grandparents. "A home for them will be one of the first things I purchase," he said. "There is no doubt in my mind I am ready. I am ready to make a name for myself."
As first days went, this appeared to be a win for all involved – the Seahawks' new management, and the players they selected.
- Pete Carroll