As the Seahawks prepare to open the season against Green Bay on Thursday, Pete Carroll addressed the team's more experienced roster, the development of the offensive line, the new-look defensive line and the health of his club.
Last season, the Hawks -- led by second-year quarterback Russell Wilson and an equally young Legion of Boom -- became the youngest team to win the Super Bowl.
"They continue to grow," Carroll told reporters Monday, "and … we feel that we’re a little bit smarter, a little more wary, a little bit more understanding, a little more savvy. And hopefully that will work for us."
It all starts with Wilson, who seems poised for a breakout season after leading the Hawks' offense on 11 scoring drives in 13 preseason possessions.
"He’s in great control of what’s going on," Carroll said. "He’s very, very comfortable. He’s playing faster than he has at any time. He understands better what we want. He really can play on the expectations of getting the ball out of his hands quickly and making sure that he can control rushing in that regard. He’s in tune with that better than ever. We have a large package of stuff that we can bring into a game plan that we’ve feel like we have command of."
Asked if Wilson has taken a bigger step than expected from Year 2 to Year 3, Carroll said, "I’m thrilled about what we are seeing. I didn’t know how much farther he would go from that year to this year. It seems like he is really, really in control of what’s happening, so we will see if that translates, and it should. I would think he’s been so sharp, I hate to tell him that I’m a little surprised of him doing well, but maybe that’s the case."
The Hawks are still going to run the ball relentlessly, but Carroll said they hope to keep defenses off balance and use all of their weapons, including the speed of Percy Harvin and Paul Richardson.
"We’re just trying to mix a really good offense at you," Carroll said. "We are going to be balanced. We are going to run the football like crazy.
"They all have their roles to play now and we feel very comfortable about what they can do even at this early stage. I think that will carry over and hopefully we can get them in the right spots and they can come through and make their plays.
"There’s nothing like being really fast. … So hopefully we can get the ball to them and they can execute well and it will be a factor to help us move the thing on offense."
Carroll is confident the line will be improved as well. He mentioned the development of rookie right tackle Justin Britt and healthy left guard James Carpenter to Green Bay reporters, and he said J.R. Sweezy is playing his best football in his third year since being converted from defensive line to right guard.
"Sweezy has just grown. He just continues to grow up," Carroll said. "It’s really been a fantastic process for him, a huge transition coming from defense and all of that. He’s at his best. He’s the best he’s been and it really seems to show up each game we’ve played."
As for left tackle Russell Okung, who played deep into the final preseason game, Carroll said, "He played really well in this last game. He really showed that he was back. … He was in the game for quite a while and handled it fine conditioning-wise. Probably I was most excited about the way he played last week out of anybody -- that he really looked like he was back. So hopefully that will carry over."
Undrafted rookie tackle Garry Gilliam might not play much this season, but the Hawks obviously didn't want to risk losing him on waivers because they see the promise in the former tight end.
"He came a million miles," Carroll said. "This is a guy who was a tight end just two years ago. He played tackle last year at Penn State. We thought that he had marvelous quickness and athleticism. … He’s just made great strides, so we see a really bright future for him."
Carroll is just as excited about the defensive line and is eager to see how it stacks up to last year's group. The Hawks cut Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and lost Clinton McDonald in free agency. They replaced them with Greg Scruggs (back from injury), veteran Kevin Williams and rookie Cassius Marsh. Jordan Hill is healthy at this point, too. And O'Brien Schofield has shown he is ready to help fill the pass-rushing void left by Clemons' departure.
"We’re versatile like we were," Carroll said. "You look at how things got replaced. We are in pretty good shape right now. It’s really going to be good to see Jordan Hill play; he’s ready to go. He wasn’t available for us last time around. Scruggs is available to us and Cassius Marsh has brought a real nice element too. We have a lot of flexibility. … We are in good shape. We are looking forward to see how it fits when the games roll out; we will see how they play."
Carroll brushed aside the thought that his front seven will have problems against the run.
"We played a lot of young kids this preseason, and it showed," he said. "We didn’t play great up front when (backups) were in there, but when the first guys were up they played really well and knew what they were doing and complemented one another and got us good play. Hopefully that will carry over."
Carroll said Williams, 34, and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, 29 -- the senior members of the defense -- are integral pieces.
"Kevin keeps the big guys in there," Carroll said. "He’s a really good technician. He’s a terrific, savvy player. He allows us to match up against the teams that want to load up against us when we want to get big. He gives us flexibility. He’s going to play a lot. He and Tony (McDaniel) and Michael Bennett are going to be moving around in there to play their spots."
As for Mebane, who in his eighth season is the longest-tenured Seahawk, Carroll said, "He’s been such a steady force. He came in in great shape, probably the strongest and the leanest that he’s been in a number of years. He just had a fantastic camp and we totally count on him. He’s been here so long. He’s been a pillar for us up front, so it’s great that he’s ready to go after having a great offseason."
The Hawks will be mixing and matching their front four on passing downs, with the main nickel rush unit expected to consist of Bennett, Cliff Avril, Schofield and probably Hill and Marsh.
Schofield had such a great preseason that the Hawks ended up waiving Benson Mayowa, who after last season was considered to be the heir apparent to Clemons.
"OB came in knowing he was in a real competitive situation to make the club, and everything he did was exemplary. He busted his butt the whole time," Carroll said. "He was the guy that demonstrated probably the best motor throughout the whole preseason and just had a great start to getting ready for the season, so we’re thrilled about that.
"He has a lot of versatility. He plays linebacker on outside, plays LEO spot and (special) teams and all that, so that’s a good deal for us."
As for the health of the team, Carroll is happy his first-team players are ready to go. The biggest concern is in the secondary, where backup cornerbacks Jeremy Lane (hamstring) and Tharold Simon (knee) are questionable. Carroll said the team would see how each made it through the next couple of days leading up to the season opener Thursday.
The Hawks tried to assuage their secondary concerns by acquiring cornerback Marcus Burley from Indianapolis.
"We’re always looking for corner depth," Carroll said. "He had a very good preseason. We really liked him. We watched him carefully. He’s got a lot of versatility to him. He can play inside, play outside, was a special teams player, too. He’s real fast. We like his mentality. He’s a good physical tackler too. He seemed to fit."
You can bet the Seahawks aren't done tweaking their roster either. But their front-line players are all healthy, more experienced and ready to start another march to the Super Bowl.
Carroll surely spoke for them all when he said, "We’re all ready to get this thing started. So here we go."