Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Indiana Carroll and the Quarterback Crusade

For a while, the Seahawks' 2011 campaign was just one long draft discussion. Who are we getting at QB next year - that's all we cared about. Then the running game and defense suddenly emerged and started making a regular season out of it. That was fun, and hugely heartening. 2011 proved more informative and promising than we had expected.

But now, with the 49ers loss, we're swinging back into the holding pattern despite having a little football still left to play. And with that reversion, some shelved concerns are coming back with a vengeance.

A lot of us don't trust Pete Carroll to get our future quarterback right. I confess I don't.

And this despite Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider having done what most of us would have considered impossible: not only dump an entire roster whose financial footprint made it nigh undumpable, but replace most of that roster with talented high-ceiling starters - within two offseasons.

Wait...lockout...one and a half offseasons!

The rational sliver of my mind says, "What more do these guys need to prove to you?" They've validated themselves at virtually every position, spectacularly in some cases (Kam Chancellor! Doug Baldwin! ZOMG RICHARD SHERMAN!!!!!!!1!11). But when it comes to the cornerstone of quarterback, we're tetchy. Anxiously rehashing the debates. Wringing out the talking points without mercy. Flooding Rob Staton with page hits. All the signs of someone who needs a lot more reassurance.

Irrational. "They are really good at evaluation and fit for 235 players, but not good at the QB's?" asks intrepid Seahawks flogger* Davis Hsu. "Let's give them a little more credit."

Maybe it's just the importance of that all-consuming QB position that makes me nervous. It feels a little akin to choosing the right spouse - correcting a bad decision comes only at great, great cost (especially if, like me, one doesn't believe in divorce), so the decision gains that much more weight. A bad QB can be ejected, but as the Jets are about to find out, it ain't pretty.

That, and we're not used to trusting the judgment of a GM after years of Tim Ruskell. We've long since taken the responsibility for scouting into our own hands, without the training or knack for it, as fans of bad teams so often do. So, we worry.

Or...maybe it's just because of Charlie Whitehurst. 

If the bust there was that severe (and it WAS severe), what does that say about this front office's QB evaluation skills?

Okay, let's turn this point into material rather than letting it push us around. The front office whiffed on Whitehurst. I called the whiff before it happened, and so did a lot of other folks, so it's easy to fume over why Pete Carroll couldn't see what we all saw (that fan arrogance coming into play here for me). And, of course, we fans never forget a wasted draft pick. Despite Carroll's Midas touch in seemingly every round, that lost third-rounder (who has accrued exactly four tackles for San Diego, by the way) still sticks in our minds like an unwashed doorknob in Adrian Monk's. Throw in the goodwill that hopeful fans invested in him, and the teases that Whitehurst showed along the way, and we're not very happy with Carroll over that particular trade.

But Davis eloquently points out of Carroll and Schneider, "No one bats 1000, these guys are batting like 750-800."

My brain replies, "But they liked Tarvaris Jackson, too." Tarvaris's small contract rolls its eyes and mutters, "Not that much."

The rumor mill chimes in, "They also liked Kevin Kolb and Trent Edwards"; Tarvaris' contract jumps back in, "Not enough to value them more than me, apparently."

I fret over the endless support Jackson has gotten from Carroll, as if it might mean a long future for him under Seattle's center; Matt Hasselbeck calls over from Tennessee, "I got that treatment at first, too." The Seahawks' 2011 draft board pipes up from a landfill somewhere, "They had Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, and Andy Dalton ranked as their top QB's"; James Carpenter interjects from his stationary cycle, "But they picked me instead." I'm tempted to pine over Ryan Mallett; the entire 12th Man plugs their ears in haste. My memory dredges up the vague "point guard" comments from Carroll; logic reminds that there's no reason to conclude that we're actively searching for the next Trent Dilfer.

And eventually, I remember that once the irrational thoughts start forming a parade, the definition of "worry" has been officially satisfied.

Kip Earlywine posted from Seahawks Draft Blog a while ago about "Having Faith" and gave us good reasons to do so. Neither financial concerns nor draft position have stopped the Seahawks from stacking on the talent thus far. Pete Carroll has produced a long line of strong quarterbacks at USC and has avoided several traps in the draft (Jimmy Clausen, Tim Tebow) already. They've done their due diligence on many different QB options, signaling their awareness of the position's importance, yet have refused to gamble on a prospect whose cost outweighed the likely benefits. Are not these great positives?

Perhaps even more encouraging is the learning that Pete Carroll has done since arriving in Renton. He's shown growth. When he re-signed Brandon Mebane and returned him to his natural nose tackle spot, I remember him remarking about how he had "more information" on Mebane to make decisions now. Some of us had liked Mebane more at the 1-tech for a while anyway, but that's irrelevant - I sincerely hope that Pete would not be surfing this blogosphere for tips anyway. His own eyes and his own people confirmed the idea, and Pete swallowed the mistake and corrected it.

That's huge. I hate ego. College coaches bust because of that more than any other reason, because they walk into the well-established NFL and think they know best. But the NFL is a petri dish of change, adaptation, innovation, and Carroll has shown himself flexible enough to ride that wave. It's huge to have a head coach whose eyes are fixed outward instead of inward.

Hsu put it eloquently and personally: "In the realm of having two kids, I feel like a more confident and better parent with my second than my first kid. First time, you make more mistakes." So say we all. If Pete was going to screw up at the QB position, it's better to do it early and cheap, as he did with Whitehurst, than with a high draft pick three or more years into the rebuild. Make no mistake - eventually, success will be required. "Failing for cheaper" won't keep him employed after five years. But his failures so far are not damning. They are recoverable, understandable, well-received teachable moments, and most importantly, now in the rear-view mirror.

As we trod once again into the long, dark draft season, with Seahawks Draft Blog as our flashlight, let's at least carry some faith with us. Pete Carroll and John Schneider appear pretty QB-smart to everyone except the worrywarts. They've brought us a long ways in a very short amount of time and put us back on the national radar. Time to shed our PTSD from the Ruskell era and start trusting. It'll do all our stomachs a lot of good.

Later: A similar, more analytical Carroll-and-QB's piece from Scott Williams, the next in a long line of excellent Scottwork that I keep forgetting to post.

*Note: "flogger" was intentional. It's my made-up word for someone who uses his Twitter stream, and occasionally Fieldgulls, for his blog home despite having the smarts and productivity to do well with one of his own. Chalk Adam Wright into this category too. (Better yet - both of you, start a blog already. They're all free and stuff.)


  1. As long as Surfer Pete "ride(s) that wave" in the petre dish, we'll be alright.

  2. Yeah, that mixed metaphor's pretty bad . . . the rest of the piece is magnificent, though -- thanks, Brandon.

  3. PC/JS may have made a mistake with Whitehurst, but they didn't hesitate to replace him with someone better (TJack). While that doesn't alleviate concerns about their initial QB evaluations, it does show that their in-depth evaluations don't override their egos.

  4. Other than Dalton, who was legitimately not a first round prospect, I can't think of any QB we've passed on that I would have wanted us to take.

    There are usually only one or two QBs in any given year that turn out to be worth resigning after their rookie contracts expire. Despite an average of 13 QBs per draft going back 10 drafts. And there are almost always 5 or 6 teams in dire need of a QB. Unless you have your choice of prospects, you aren't very likely to get that one legit QBOTF prospect.

    Odds are, we will burn several mid first round picks before we get 'the one'.

    If we can take a generically unclaimed free agent QB, and be this competitive with this young of a team, then realistically we should expect that we will probably be picking in the mid teens to the mid twenties for the next several years. Assuming this, and taking into account how rare franchise QB prospects fall into that range and the miss rates when they do .... then we would truly be playing the odds and then some if we were to surrender the next 4 first round picks for the rights to Luck.

    It sounds incredibly foolhardy. But if you consider what we should expect to have available to us over that timeframe -- it actually begins to make sense. And if this front office is even half as proficient as it has been the last 18 months at pulling talent from the back half of the draft -- then the loss of 3 potential starters is largely insignificant.

  5. Also, in response to us not gambling on a prospect:

    "They've done their due diligence on many different QB options, signaling their awareness of the position's importance, yet have refused to gamble on a prospect whose cost outweighed the likely benefits. Are not these great positives?"

    I would have expected no less. Decisions have to be made and critiqued, at the time they are made. In the 2010 and 2011 drafts, we needed bodies. More than we could even draft.

    The team we have assembled today is NOTHING like the teams we had in 2009 or 2010. This club could finish with an identical 7-9 record as last year. But I'd defy anyone to make the case we aren't insanely more talented just a mere 11 months since that Saints game.

    What would have been ridiculous in January, is now permissable. And that's due to great talent acquisition through the draft (and via FA moves and trades). We don't have holes like we did going into the draft this April. What that means is fortunately, we don't have the relatively open positions that we can fill by the half dozen anymore either. Whomever we select at virtually any position -- would be hard pressed to secure a starting role. Our needs are QB and DT with LB depth and general depth. You can address LB and general depth in rds 2 through 7 easily enough.

    If you don't sell out for a QB and say, "Let's get a DT/DE". Ok, who? Looking at what's available will make your heart sink.

    This year is like a perfect storm of attributes all of which point towards selling out for a big payday.

    In general, it's a bad idea to sell out. But that's because in general there is a heavy cost associated with trading up. Not all #12 picks are created equal. One year, you can have Warren Sapp drop to you. The next, you can have Aaron Maybin. This year looks like a whole stable full of Maybins.

  6. One thing to keep in mind with three of our close losses: not only did the QB not win it for us at the end, the D didn't protect a 4th quarter lead. In each of those drives, there were critical plays where the QB escaped, stayed alive, and either scrambled for yards or completed a pass. In other words, an improved pass rush could have turned those three losses into wins as easily as better QB play. Either way, a shot at 11-5 would be a heck of a lot better than a shot at 8-8. If we can improve that pass rush with a good first round pick for a DE, rather than trading away the farm for a QB, that might provide the better value. But, like Attyla wrote, "Ok, who?" Beats me!

    The good news about PCJS is that they won't overpay for a QB. Yeah, they took a risk with CW, but it didn't put us deeply in debt. And, don't forget his clutch win at the end of the season. If you think about it, Charlie's compensation was the cost of going to the playoffs. He also closed the Giants win, so he played a role in getting us to 8-8. Yeah, he had some losses, but we shouldn't overlook the value of his wins.

    I don't mind getting a mid-level player for mid level pay. As long as we avoid paying a franchise price for a bust, we'll be fine.

  7. You couldn't find a bigger critic of the Whitehurst trade when it went down, but I'm a believer in this FO's ability to evaluate QB.

    If anything, they strike me as being ahead of the game. Slowly, the NFL is becoming a mobile QBs league, and while the term point guard QB was new to most of us this year, I think in a few years time it will become predominant in the NFL. Guys like Cam Newton and reformed Michael Vick are the future. Even the top two QBs in this next draft (assuming RG3 avoids the unthinkable) are perfect point guard types.

    Sure, Brees and Rodgers are going crazy this year, but both QBs possess above average mobility. Rodgers in particular has run the ball 50% more than T-Jack has, and Brees has had seasons in the past where he had more rushing attempts than Jackson's current total. The only true pure pocket QB at the top of his game right now is Brady, and really just about everything about Brady defies convention.

    I also really like the fact that PC is taking some advice from Bill Walsh to heart, by building a comfortable QB environment before seeking that QB. While it would have been nice to grab a QB the last couple drafts, the best choices were guys like Tebow, Clausen, Kaepernick, Dalton, and Mallett (who needed to go to a team like New England). All things considered, I'm glad they went a different direction in those drafts.

    I also like what the development of Tarvaris Jackson says about their coaching, and what the undrafted signing of Josh Portis says about their ability to find QB talent in unlikely places.

  8. I saw something in Tjack that concerned me in the SF game. The busted play at the goal line where he goes left and just let the DB take him without any effort to score with his "athleticism".

    Considering the circumstances at the time and playoff stakes at hand, his effort was an "ahaaa" moment that will now be my focus when watching him. TJack is on a "heart monitor" going forward.

  9. I remember that play for different reasons woofu.

    If anything, Tarvaris to me appears to be overthinking virtually every aspect of quarterbacking. He just plays afraid. He doesn't even consider delivering a pass unless a receiver is just blantantly wide open. And he second guesses his instincts repeatedly.

    I'm sure he got an earful from the coaches about not sacrificing his body after the Giants game. If anything, his not making a play for the end zone on that play was symptomatic of his play all year. Measured and careful to a fault.

    Taking that hit in the middle of a game in the middle of the field in the middle of a season was foolish. You take those chances when games and seasons were on the line. He just consistently displays a critical inability to incur risk when it's warranted.