RENTON, Wash. — When Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll took his new job in 2010, he did so knowing that he'd have a full offseason and preseason to prepare his new team, plus the extra minicamp afforded to first-year coaches with new teams. Going into his second year, and knowing a lockout was an inevitability at some point, the only thing that Carroll knew for sure was that nothing would be as it seemed.
When the lockout finally ended, it gave Carroll — and the 31 other head coaches around the league — scant time to prepare for the preseason. Adding to that frustration was the fact that newly-signed free agents (and the Seahawks had a bunch of them; five potential starters) could only practice for about a week before their team's first preseason games. Add in a travel day, as the Seahawks had on Wednesday for Thursday's preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers, and you've got very little time to deal with the physical and schematic demands of the season — even if it is the preseason.
"The first thing we're looking for is seeing us play hard," Carroll said on Tuesday about the preseason process. "I want to see the guys run around and hit and get back to football with as many as we're going to play. We're going to try and play everybody that travels with us. The hope here is that we see a team that's ready to play football and go out and run around the field and make this first step. We have no idea what's going to happen. Fortunately, it's preseason, so we have a chance to figure it out. That's most important right now."
And in a compressed offseason that has seen many under-conditioned players and more injuries than may have been expected (nine Achilles injuries already? Really?), Carroll understands that conditioning — such as it may be — is paramount. "We're just trying to be really careful. We've had a number of guys get dehydrated and usually that's a sign — because it hasn't been that hot and we haven't been out here for double-days and things like that — usually that's a sign that their level of conditioning is not ready yet. There's still a ways to go. That's something we're really being careful with because that can be very dangerous.
"We've had a number of guys really gas out on us, and it's basically the big guys. Those big guys that didn't have the offseason program to push them and kind of have the guys around them to maintain the standard of the conditioning, they've suffered a little bit in that regard. We have to be very careful with those guys and then hopefully we can get through the next couple weeks and we'll be on our way."
One interesting wrinkle for Carroll is that of those aforementioned five new potential starters, four may know Seattle's new offense better than the guys who have been around for years. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and receiver Sidney Rice spent years in the Minnesota Vikings' system with new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell; tight end Zach Miller and guard Robert Gallery spent years in the Oakland system with new line coach Tom Cable. The fifth, former Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Alan Branch played in many of the same hybrid fronts that he'll be working with in his new home.
Carroll had said before that system continuity was more important than ever when deciding who to bring on his team in such unique circumstances; now, the hope is that the thought process will pay off. "It is like that to a certain degree," he said. "Robert Gallery comes in here knowing the system and knowing all of the calls and the reasons why, as well. He's well ahead of all the other guys, so he's a very instrumental player for us to hold that group together and kind of captain that whole effort by the offensive line. They're looking up to him in that regard. Zach (Miller) helps us as well with line calls and kind of the intricacies of things. It's not the big stuff, but the little stuff that these guys know that the other guys are just scrambling to catch up on. By design it's helped us. Sidney (Rice) and Tarvaris (Jackson) are certainly on the same page and that helps us. It will help us early in the season I think, to a certain degree. But it's a race to catch everybody up."
The abbreviated offseason affords no excuses — every team is facing the same issues. All Carroll and his colleagues can do is to understand that there will be some pretty ugly football early on, and that it's important not to miss the little things along the way.
"The game evaluation is a little different because of all the things that are going on around the players and we want to see, 'Does it distract them from performing? Does it heighten performance?' We don't know that. We don't know how they're going to respond with the young guys and some of the new people that are coming in the program … This is an absolute race for these guys to learn information by game time. If you can imagine 14 OTAs and all of the hours of meetings — 40-something hours of meetings that they would have had up until now — and all of the extra work they would have done. You can't equate that. We're never going to get that time for these guys going into this season. So they're at more of a disadvantage because of the lockout than any other year. It's a one-time thing and it won't happen again.
"This time around, we have to use different eyes as we're watching and filter well so that we don't judge too quickly and then miss a guy. For instance, we talked about (linebacker) Dexter Davis and (safety) Kam Chancellor. Last year in OTAs, they weren't doing very much. They were kind of flip-flopping around and struggling and not really making much headway. Then by the time we came out of OTAs and got to camp, they were ready to go and all of a sudden, they were lighting up the practice field with their effort and practice. That's probably in this group of kids too. We've just got to make sure that we're patient enough and wait it out and look for the little tid-bits that they give us that show us who they can be down the road here because we'll never have as much time as we've had (in past years). So we just have to do the best we can with that. I'm worried about that a little bit. I don't want to make a mistake and miss on a kid because we judge that he's not quite ready yet so we'll have to be very patient."
Patience is the key. And when every NFL team kicks off over the next five days, those coaches lacking the patience to see through the early bumps will he two steps behind the rest.