“Trust the process, man.” — John Schneider.
In case it wasn’t clear, John Schneider and Pete Carroll are going young on defense again — the same “process” they used in their early days, before the Legion of Boom became a household NFL moniker. And Schneider wants us to trust him and Carroll to do it again.
The trust factor has worn thin for a lot of fans amid a litany of mistakes by Schneider and Carroll over the past few years that sent the Seahawks on a steady slide. Yeah, 50-60 percent of fans (based on our polls) still have full faith, but the rest either no longer trust Schneider or are waiting to see how this year’s defensive demolition turns out.
The GM surprisingly has traded Michael Bennett and cut Richard Sherman and DeShawn Shead, and he seems to be leaning heavily toward trading Earl Thomas, too. If, as expected, Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor cannot play anymore, Seattle is looking at losing five of its two-time Super Bowl stalwarts (plus 2016 starter Shead). Despite those major moves, Schneider doesn’t think the Hawks are rebuilding their defense.
“We’re not rebuilding; it’s just a reset,” he told 710 ESPN. “We’ve got some pretty good players on this football team. And there’s a lot of young players that people don’t necessarily (know); they haven’t heard their names yet.”
He’s referring mainly to Delano Hill, Tedric Thompson and Mike Tyson — the defensive backs drafted behind Shaquill Griffin last year. We’ve heard their names; we just haven’t seen them play much.
Schneider reminded everyone that no one knew Sherman, Chancellor, Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond back in 2010-11 either. “I’m telling you, man, there’s a lot of good young football players (on the roster) that people don’t know about.”
We’re about to find out whether that’s true. Basically, this year is an audition for the next Super Bowl core. Whoever survives this roster “reset” will be part of the next championship window — assuming, of course, they are as talented as Schneider claims.
The first Super Bowl squad was led by one of the most elite defenses in NFL history. Carroll had 16 key contributors in that ultra-deep devil’s brigade that led the Seahawks to the stunning Super Bowl win over Denver during the 2013 season.
Now, with the core of that elite group almost entirely gone (only two or three guys left), where in Schneider’s “process” are the Seahawks? How much more “resetting” must be done before they put together another Super Bowl-style defense?
Like 2012, this defense has the linemen and the linebackers. But the secondary is still in the 2011 development mode, with Thomas’ unknown status and the lack of a defined No. 2 corner keeping that group in limbo for now.
Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are the veteran anchors for this youth movement. The Hawks should extend Wright this year and Wagner next year, letting them lead the next championship charge. Seattle also signed Barkevious Mingo, the sixth pick in the 2013 draft, and is hoping he can play the old Malcolm Smith/Bruce Irvin role for at least the next couple of years. A linebacker surely is on the draft wish list as well.
On the line, the Hawks have a solid young core with Frank Clark, Jarran Reed and Nazair Jones — some of Schneider’s best picks over the past three drafts. Dion Jordan, who had four sacks in five games last season, will audition for Bennett’s role in 2018. If Clark and Jordan can replace Avril/Bennett, they could become part of the core; Clark is probably on Schneider’s re-up list this offseason. Schneider obviously needs to look for an edge rusher in the draft, too.
The Malik McDowell debacle last year was a big setback, costing two second-round picks if you include the one Schneider traded for Sheldon Richardson. The GM let Richardson sign with Minnesota, replacing him with two Vikings, 33-year-old inside rusher Tom Johnson and run stopper Shamar Stephen. Those are short-term fill-ins like many of the D-tackles Schneider has signed over the years, so the GM should have his eyes open for another interior rusher in the draft (e.g., DaShawn Hand or Andrew Brown).
As for the secondary, Seattle supposedly added the next generation last year. Shaquill Griffin is expected to be the next No. 1 cover guy — as a rookie, he showed he has the ability. The Seahawks would like to re-sign Maxwell for the other corner spot, but they continue to hunt elsewhere as well. And they have some reserves who are well-schooled in Carroll’s system: Justin Coleman, DeAndre Elliott, Neiko Thorpe. They likely will use one of their umpteen fifth-rounders to add a corner (Brandon Facyson, Josh Kalu, et al.).
If Thomas and Chancellor are finished in Seattle, Bradley McDougald and Delano Hill figure to fill their spots. Obviously, there are few Earl Thomases running around NFL secondaries, so — as solid as McDougald is — this would be a step back at free safety. But who’s to say Hill couldn’t become the next Chancellor — or better? Seattle also has been closely studying this year’s rookie class of safeties (Justin Reid, Jessie Bates, et al.).
If Thomas is dealt, this would be the expected 2018 core (pending the draft): Wagner, Wright, Clark, Reed, Jones, Jordan, Johnson, Stephen, Griffin, McDougald, Hill, Coleman, Mingo. That group might be good enough to help Russell Wilson get the Seahawks back to the playoffs in 2018, but Schneider still has a lot of decisions to make for the future roster.
Wright, Clark, Jordan and Coleman are signed only for 2018 — but all should be candidates for extensions. Wagner, Reed and Mingo are signed through 2019. McDougald, Griffin, Hill and Jones are signed through 2020.
We won’t know which ones should be part of the next core until deep into the 2018 season, so at this point we have no choice but to follow Schneider’s lead and “trust the process, man.”