All Carroll quotes are direct, and taken from the transcript of a coaching seminar on the 4-3 under defense that he has used for quite some time now.
First, the LEO, or Elephant position defensive end:
"The open side Defensive End has to be one of your best football players. Size does not matter as much. We want an athletic player who can move around."
This appears to be a fungible position to an extent. I am sure that if a truly special player who met this standard AND was both a special pass rusher and excellent run stopper was available, he would be selected early in the draft, but that seems unlikely this season. Key words to remember for the Leo position (stand up defensive end) are "one of your best football players" and " athletic player who can move around."
Second, the nose tackle:
"At Nose Tackle you have to find a player who likes to mix it up. We want a big guy in there who likes to get down and dirty. He is going to get doubled a lot on the run and pass and is going to get down blocked a lot. He has to be a tough player. This guy can be a short and stubby type of player."
I see Pete's words here and think 3-4 nose tackle, like BJ Raji, or Kris Jenkins, Haloti Ngata. You get the picture. This man needs to absorb two blockers and stay low. I would say we are thin here, and this is a position subject to immediate upgrade at either the starter or backup position. Colin Cole is competent, even average given how much he was missed when hurt, but hardly dominant. He was single blocked far too often to meet the standards of this position. At the minimum, he needs a competent backup.
Thirdly, his DT 3-technique line mate:
"The other defensive tackle the 3 technique player should be your premier interior pass rusher. He is going to get a lot of one on one blocks as it is hard to double team him because of where he lines up."
Is Brandon Mebane our premier interior pass rusher? The pocket was far too comfortable for many opposing quarterbacks this season. I will not argue Mebane's talent, it is very evident. But, is he miscast here in Seattle? Seattle's attempts to re-sign him when the CBA allows it may very well indicate just how much he fits the profile Pete has for his position.
Fourth, his hand-in-the-dirt defensive end, a role currently occupied by Red Bryant:
"The defensive end to the tight end side needs to be a defensive player that can play the run. He does not have to be a big time pass rusher. He has to play the C gap and stop the run."
This is obviously a position that needs greater depth. Bryant was good when healthy. I would expect that a 3-4 DE type player fitting the profile of Aaron Smith or Ziggy Hood might be the profile to look for; body types like Red has that are still quick enough for this position are rare indeed.
Fifth, the middle backer:
"The Mike linebacker is a traditional middle linebacker. He is instinctive and makes a lot of calls for the defense. He may be the guy with the most experience or the best feel for the game."
This is a role that Lofa Tatupu would currently fill better if the NT in front of him nearly ALWAYS demanded a double team, but Cole currently does not. Lofa may have slowed some, but fills the other qualifications quite well. This is, however, a position that demands immediate depth.
Sixth, the player position currently occupied by David Hawthorne, weak side backer:
"The Will linebacker can be a smaller player. He is generally protected in the defensive schemes and will not see as many blocks. All you want him to do most plays is flow and chase the football. We want our fastest linebacker at this position."
Hawthorne is a decent match for those specs, but depth is an issue. I look for at least one player to be drafted to back up either Lofa or Hawthorne, and maybe a couple of UDFA's to compete for the backup spot too.
Seventh is the strong side backer, currently Aaron Curry:
"The Sam linebacker has to be a good containment player. He has to be big and strong enough to play on the edge of the tight end. He has to be able to run in pass coverage also."
Curry is big and strong. The other specs are ... growth opportunities, shall we say, for Mr. Curry. Big 3-4 backers who can pass rush and run with tight ends are rare. Cross your fingers on Curry, because we are unlikely to draft his replacement soon, unless we uncover a late-round or UDFA gem.
Eighth, and first in the secondary:
"The defensive backs that are the best run defenders are our safeties. The Free Safety is another player who makes a lot of tackles for us. He has to have good instincts. He is what we call a natural player. You don't have to coach this player too much. He has to have a feel for the everything and understand the big picture."
Earl Thomas is set here for a while. Earl is YOUNG, and still learning. His mistakes were enormous, his big plays equally so. He may have won the San Diego game for us. We won't be seeking a backup for him except late in the draft, or after the draft.
Strong safety is, however, a position of need. Chancellor may be an answer, but the position still needs another player, as Milloy is definitely long in the tooth. If the chance arises to fill this position with an athletic tackler in free agency, that may be the way to go. Earl Thomas may just need the voice of experience at the other position this early in his career.
Ninth, and last, another position of need:
"The corners have to run fast if you plan on playing bump and run. If they don't run fast then you can still play with them. But if your corners are not faster than the wide receivers you are facing don't play bump and run. Your asking them to do something they can not do and they'll get beat deep. It is a race when you play bump and run and if you can't win the race don't play bump and run.
If you have a million reads for your secondary you are crazy. They don't need that even at our level. All they need to know is their primary responsibility and then secondary. At the highest level in the NFL the pass game is as complex as you can imagine. However if a defender can play the post and the seam route then they can learn to play at that level. The thing that kills and breaks down a defense is a ball being thrown over the defender's head for a touchdown."
I assumed Carroll liked larger corners for their ability to play bump and cover, and that is not the case. No speed advantage, no bump and cover.
The following quote is about when corners are in Man coverage:
"To take this even further for example we tell our corners to play inside leverage (i.e. to the inside shoulder of the receiver) in this defense. This helps the corner avoid giving up the big play to the inside of the field. If you want them to play the out route towards the sideline you have to give them someone playing support over the top. There is not a corner in college or the NFL that can both play the out routes and also avoid giving up the deep ball to the inside. You have to be realistic as to what your players can do. They only way a corner can play inside leverage and make a play on the out route is if the offense screws up or the quarterback makes a bad throw or the receiver runs a bad route. If you don’t understand that then you are asking the corner to do something he can’t do."
It is pretty simple, make the quarterbacks make the harder throws. Outs are harder than seam routes. And throwing an out over a taller player is harder than throwing one over, say, Kelly Jennings.
So, now you can look at players in the draft, and at the combine, from a little different perspective. Apply these standards to potential draftees and free agents, and you might have a good idea of who Seattle might go after to fill out the roster in 2011.