Full circle: Pete Carroll tries to copy successful Seahawks youth movement that won titles

A decade ago it began with Doug Baldwin from Stanford.

Then it was Ricardo Lockette from Fort Valley State. Jeremy Lane from Northwest Louisiana. DeShawn Shead from Portland State. Jermaine Kearse from Washington.

In the early 2010s coach Pete Carroll featured late-round draft choices from small colleges and undrafted rookies. They had Mount Rainier-sized chips on their shoulders. They fueled the Seahawks’ rise to Super Bowl champions.

Now, that old guard is all gone. The Seahawks are coming off just their second non-playoff season in 10 years.

So Carroll is remaking his team again with...yes, late-round draft choices from small colleges and undrafted rookies motivated to prove.

“Not everybody at the Division-II level are like me, but there are lot of guys out there that if they get the opportunity they can be in the same situation that I am and make an NFL team,” big, 6-foot-2, 224-pound rookie wide receiver Dareke Young from Lenior-Rhyne said.

That was on his first full day last week as one of nine rookies to make it through offseason practices, training camp and preseason games onto the Seahawks’ 53-man roster for the 2022 season.

Young is Seattle’s fourth wide receiver behind veterans DK Metcalf, another big wide out, plus Tyler Lockett and Marquise Goodwin. He beat out three-year veteran Freddie Swain for a place on the field when Seattle hosts Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos next week in the opener inside Lumen Field.

Seattle waived Swain, from big-school Florida, last week. It kept Division-II Young.

“I definitely feel like I’m representing them, and I have no problem doing it,” Young said of small-school players everywhere.

The seventh-round pick is one of nine rookies and seven rookie draft choices to make the Seahawks’ initial regular-season roster.

Last year, coming off a 12-4 season and NFC West division title from 2020, Carroll kept just four rookies (Dee Eskridge, Tre Brown, Stone Forsythe and Jake Curhan).

The two rookie draft picks that did not make the 2022 Seahawks: sixth-round choice Bo Melton and fifth-round selection Tyreke Smith. Melton was one of 12 waived players signed onto the team’s practice squad Wednesday. Smith went on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday.

Undrafted Joey Blount makes it

Carroll also stayed true to being one of the NFL’s leading coaches in not only keeping but playing undrafted free agents as rookies.

Two more made this year’s initial 53-man roster: safety Joey Blount from Virginia and linebacker Joshua Onujiogu from Division-III Framingham State in Massachusetts.

Wednesday, Seattle waived Onujiogu to create room on the active roster for Darryl Johnson, an edge rusher the Seahawks claimed off waivers from Carolina. Onujiogu cleared waivers. On Friday, Seattle signed him back, onto its 16-man practice squad.

“I have always looked at the makeup of the kid and the mentality of the kid. It doesn’t really matter where you are drafted, if you have it,” Carroll said.

“Joey and Josh, those guys are great examples. They put their head down and competed their tails off. They showed that they have the right kind of makeup to help your club.”

As they’ve done with dozens of others the last 12 summers in Seattle, Carroll and his staff played their undrafted rookies extensively in the three preseason games. Blount and Onujiogu kept making plays — including on special teams. That’s the way Baldwin, Kearse, Shead and Lockette made their immediate ways onto the team a decade ago.

The 23-year-old Blount was a 175-pound multi-position athlete who scored seven touchdowns passing, nine rushing and two on defense with five interceptions as a senior at Landmark Christian School, a Class-A private school in metro Atlanta. He had scholarship offers from lower-division Mercer and Elon plus hometown Georgia State of the Sun Belt Conference — and one from the University of Virginia of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

He took that one.

He didn’t make any first- or second-team All-ACC lists his senior season at UVA. None of the 32 NFL teams spent any of the 262 selections in this spring’s draft on him.

As soon as the draft ended, Carroll and general manager John Schneider called Blount. He knew the Seahawks’ history of signing and playing undrafted rookies.

Now he’s a 205-pound Seahawks safety.

“It definitely started then. When the draft was happening, after the draft, I had some calls with some personnel and staff, just letting me know about the culture here,” Blount said. “Pete Carroll and the coaches want whoever can help. Drafted or not, they are looking at me, see the talent that I have, and are interested. For me, all that I wanted was a little interest and an opportunity to get my foot in the door.

“So, once I heard that message, it was similar to college for me where everything was earned and not given. I feel that here with the Seattle Seahawks. So I just came out here and put my best foot forward.”

Blount recovered an onside kick late in Seattle’s game against Chicago Aug. 18. He essentially beat out Marquise Blair, the Seahawks’ second-round pick from 2019, for a back-up safety and special-teams spot.

Seahawks rookie safety Joey Blount (35) jumps and celebrates after recovering an onside kick late in the team’s second preseason game at Lumen Field in Seattle on August 18, 2022. Cheyenne Boone/Cheyenne Boone/The News Tribune
Seahawks rookie safety Joey Blount (35) jumps and celebrates after recovering an onside kick late in the team’s second preseason game at Lumen Field in Seattle on August 18, 2022. Cheyenne Boone/Cheyenne Boone/The News Tribune

“I’m always looking for those guys. Sometimes, the makeup is more important than the rest of it,” Carroll said. “So that’s what these guys stand for.

“I was really excited, we talked to the guys (Tuesday, cut day). Everybody has a story behind their background of where they came from, how it worked out for them, and how this turned out.

“Those two guys certainly have a unique story that leads them to being on an NFL roster. It’s great.”

The biggest thing Blount and Onujiogu did? They stayed healthy.

“They might not have the numbers, or they might not have the place they came from that might boost their opportunity, but fortunately for them, they both were healthy,” Carroll said. “(They) stayed out there, and were able to show us. They played a lot in the games, too. They had a lot of game time.”

Carroll will give rookie free agents the time on the field. When the Seahawks decided to rest safeties Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams plus linebackers Jordyn Brooks, Darrell Taylor and Uchenna Nwosu for almost all the preseason games, Blount and Onujiogu prospered with their fill-in chances.

But if undrafted rookies and late-round picks are hurt, Carroll rarely shows the patience to wait for them to become available.

That partly explains why the Seahawks waived Melton, who frustrated Carroll at being injured during offseason practices in May into June. It explains why undrafted rookie offensive tackle Liam Ryan from Washington State also got waived and is on the practice squad despite constant need for depth at his position. Ryan missed much of August injured.

Young was hurt this spring with soft-tissue injuries, too, the kind that signals to Carroll guys weren’t in good enough shape at the start of their chances with Seattle. But Young is closer to Metcalf in size at wide receiver than the speedy, 5-11 Melton, and Carroll loves big wide receiver.

Seahawks receivers coach Sanjay Lal has been working with Young what he’s been drilling with the 6-4, 235 Metcalf: staying lower coming off the line of scrimmage at snaps and out of his breaks on routes. That technique emphasis makes big receivers quicker and more difficult to defend than they already are.

Dareke Young’s mom knew

Young said he’s also been learning NFL defenses disguising coverages before the snap. At Lenior-Rhyne, what defenses showed before the snap is what they played. In Seattle’s preseason games, at Dallas in particular last week switched coverages after the snap.

Young said he misread what he thought was man coverage the Cowboys were showing before the snap. It was, in fact, Cover 2 zone with cornerbacks sitting in shorter zones with safeties rotating over the top for deep coverage once the play began. Young ran the wrong route. That caused a sack of quarterback Geno Smith.

But Young often took advantage of his chances when the ball came to him in the preseason games. He caught seven of the 11 passes thrown his way, with a touchdown from Drew Lock at Pittsburgh Aug. 13. Three of those misfires could be considered dropped passes. That was a problem for all Seahawks receivers who played in the preseason.

Thing is, 6-2, 224-pound wide receivers who show potential for huge plays are hugely attractive in the NFL, particularly to Carroll. Plus, it’s tougher to get 6-2, 224 wide receivers with game tape unclaimed through league waivers than it is to get through a 5-11, 191-pound rookie that Melton is, to keep on the practice squad.

Toinette Young knew.

Like the sun rising, Dareke’s mom sends her son encouragement every morning. On Mother’s Day, Young, from Raleigh, North Carolina, had a Seahawks rookie minicamp. He brought his mom out to visit him and see him practice in his new home.

When he made the Seahawks Tuesday, the first person he told was Mom.

“She was happy,” Young said. “She told me that she knew they would keep me here.

“She’s been very instrumental for me. She sends me prayers every morning to keep me grounded. She’s the motivation for me.”