There were many who questioned how well Pete Carroll's return to the NFL would fare when he elected to leave USC for the Seattle Seahawks two years ago.
In immediately guiding the Seahawks to an NFC West Crown (and an improbably home playoff victory over the Super Bowl defending New Orleans Saints), Carroll and general manager John Schneider appeared to answer any questions as to their ability to compete. Despite dropping to third in the division a year later, the team showed the ability to beat quality teams - defeating the Giants in New York, Baltimore at home and playing the 49ers closer-than-the-score-indicated in two losses.
When not operating on full-cylinders, however, the Seahawks also showed their vulnerability. With star running back Marshawn Lynch a late scratch, the Seahawks couldn't move the ball and were beaten by a poor Cleveland Browns team. The Seahawks also showed their holes in losses to the Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals.
The Seahawks attempted to address their biggest area of concern with free agent addition Matt Flynn, formerly the backup quarterback to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. This same strategy worked well when the Seahawks were able to pry Matt Hasselbeck - the only quarterback to guide Seattle to a Super Bowl berth - from Green Bay. Schneider, who was given the GM position after a successful tour as Green Bay's director of football operations.
While Flynn, Lynch and pass catchers Sidney Rice and Zach Miller generated most of the buzz, the play of Seattle's defense has been the real reason for Seattle's rapid turnaround from the 5-11 disaster that led to the firing of Jim Mora as the team's head coach after just one season. Under Pete Carroll (and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley), Seattle has built a hybrid defense which incorporates elements of both the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes. Key building blocks along the defensive line (Red Bryant), linebacker (KJ Wright) and virtually the entire secondary bode well for the future of the franchise. As such, optimism is high that Seattle can again compete for the division crown. To do, Seattle will have to improve upon their pass rush and passing game in 2012.
Five picks Pete Carroll and Co. should contemplate:
ILB Luke Kuechly, Boston College (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 12)
The Seahawks' have relied on shorter, active middle linebackers Lofa Tatupu and David Hawthorne for much of the past decade, enjoying surprising success. The size limitations of these players, however, have made this a position in need of constant fine-tuning. Kuechly may look like Clark Kent, but in posting more tackles (solos and total) in three seasons than any linebacker in NCAA history, he certainly plays like Superman. Kuechly's consistency, durability and size (6-3, 240) will make him an option to consider if he's still available to the Seattle with the No. 12 overall pick.
DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 11)
With middle linebackers typically able to find in the lower rounds, Seattle may elect to address their biggest area of concern - pass rusher - first. Chris Clemons, playing the LEO defensive end position, once again led the Seahawks with 11 sacks a year ago, but the team's second leading pass rusher was outside linebacker Leroy Hill, who finished with only four. The Seahawks won't be willing to move young star Red Bryant from his place as a five-technique defensive end opposite Clemons because he's among the league's better run-defenders from that position, so Seattle's search for a pass rush help may come in the form of several players rather than just one. Should Coples land in Seattle's lap at No. 12 overall, however, Carroll may be allowed to scrap the group-strategy and instead gamble on the incredible upside this former Tar Heel demonstrated throughout a dominant week at the Senior Bowl.
DE Vinny Curry, Marshall (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 40)
Should the Seahawks take the route many project - and go with a linebacker at pick No. 12 - Curry would appear to make a great deal of sense as a complement and eventual replacement to Clemons at the LEO position. Curry, like Clemons, is a bit undersized but he presents an explosive burst off the edge, a refined pass rush technique and plays with the passion that Carroll loves. Should he still be on the board when Seattle picks in the second round (No. 43 overall), he'd make a lot of sense.
OLB Sean Spence, Miami (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 82)
One of Carroll's stated goals during his post-season press conference was for the team to get faster at linebacker. The 5-11, 231 pound Spence certainly lacks the bulk scout are looking for, but he's been a standout player (and leader) during a spectacular career with the 'Canes in which he earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors and played at an all-conference level each of his subsequent seasons at The U. With versatile second-year linebacker KJ Wright capable of lining up at virtually any of the three positions for the Seahawks, the team could look past Spence's lack of ideal size and instead focus on his instincts, quickness in coverage and surprising effectiveness as a blitzer for the weakside position. Spence wouldn't be flashy, but he might eventually out-play the No. 75 pick the Seahawks would likely have to invest to get him.
TE Michael Egnew, Missouri (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 116)
Expectations were high in Seattle when the Seahawks convinced former Oakland Raider Zach Miller to head north to pair with their own young standout tight end John Carlson and give the club a two-headed monster at the position. Instead, Carlson succumbed to injury and Miller was forced to aid in the development of rookie right tackle James Carpenter by staying in to block rather than releasing into routes as often as he was with the Raiders. With Carlson having left to Minnesota as a free agent, the team may feel the need to add help at the position. Egnew is a work in progress after lining up wide rather than as a traditional in-line tight end throughout much of his career but is big and athletic and could push projects Anthony McCoy and Cameron Moorah, who as of yet haven't taken advantage of their intriguing skill sets to produce much. With their first pick of the third day of the draft (No. 106), the Seahawks could pounce.