Luke Willson—and other late-round discoveries by Seattle GM John Schneider—have the Seahawks poised for another big January. Plus, tackling your questions about an Odell Beckham Jr. bounty, the Raiders’ front office, Jay Cutler and the Pats’ offense
The reason teams are chasing Seattle for the second straight year for the Lombardi Trophy? Look at the lower rounds of the drafts and college free agency mined by general manager John Schneider. The proof is all there. Schneider took over in 2010, and he acquired 10 important players in the third round and beyond in his first four drafts.
All you have to do is look at the victory over Arizona:
- Quarterback Russell Wilson (third round, 2012) amassed 427 passing and rushing yards in the 35-6 win Sunday night.
- Tight end Luke Willson (fifth round, 2013), a former Toronto Blue Jays minor-league slugging first baseman, had a career-best 139 receiving yards and two touchdowns, outrunning safety Rashad Johnson on the 80-yarder for the first one.
- Wide receiver Doug Baldwin (undrafted, 2011) caught seven balls for 113 yards.
- Cornerback Richard Sherman (fifth round, 2011) had the game’s only interception plus four tackles.
- Strong safety Kam Chancellor (fifth round, 2010), the blitzing enforcer of the Seattle secondary, had two tackles and a pass defensed.
- Linebacker K.J. Wright (fourth round, 2011), rewarded last week with a new four-year contract, had four tackles and a pass defensed.
- Defensive tackle Jordan Hill (third round, 2013), an increasingly important member of the rush rotation on the line, had a sack and three tackles.
- Guard J.R. Sweezy (seventh round, 2012), playing on a sprained ankle, kept Wilson clean and cleared holes for the running game.
- Cornerback Byron Maxwell (sixth round, 2011) and nickel back Jeremy Lane (sixth round, 2012) helped shut down the Arizona pass game with three passes defensed.
How many teams in the NFL have a starting quarterback, the top wideout, the best guard on the team, the starting tight end, a top prospect interior rusher, a longterm linebacker, and four key defensive backs procured in four years … without the benefit of a first- or second-round pick, or a free-agent acquisition, for any of them?
That’s why Seattle is dangerous right now. The Seahawks are confident in their personnel staff, and Schneider is confident in his scouting ability, and coach Pete Carroll has no problem with playing kids early. That’s a great recipe for success.
After the latest Seattle win, I talked to Willson. I couldn’t believe what I saw on his 80-yard touchdown run. Willson, a 252-pound tight end who blocks well, caught a floater from Wilson at the Seattle 47, and proceeded to outrun Johnson for the final 53 yards. An amazing play—particularly for a player who the Seahawks rely on to help their two tackles, and seeing that Arizona safeties are so athletic and swift.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised," Willson said. “Surprised isn’t the word. Every team is vulnerable to things on defense, and their safety bit when I got by him, so I knew I was in good shape. I always felt I had a little amount of speed."
Willson grew up in Ontario playing football and baseball, and developed into a mashing baseball prospect. But, he says, “Football was always my dream."
I asked Willson if he thinks this edition of the Seahawks, which can win the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the second straight season, is better than last year. “There’s some comparison to last year," he said, clearly uncomfortable with preening, “but this team seems to have its own identity.” He’s right. It’s an identity forged by a cadre of 27-and-younger players the Seahawks think can lead the team for a long time.
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Now for your email:
THE DOLPHINS POWER STRUCTURE. In light of recent rumors that Jim Harbaugh is entertaining an offer from the University of Michigan, would Stephen Ross undermine his alma matter's efforts and pursue Harbaugh as the new coach of the Dolphins?
—Jorge, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Now that Ross has said he will bring back Joe Philbin for the 2015 season, this becomes a moot point. But even before Ross did that on Sunday, I was told he wasn’t very interested in having Harbaugh coach the Dolphins. I don’t believe Harbaugh would fit into the structure that Ross thinks is best to win with in the NFL. Not that Ross is any great expert in football structures that win in the NFL, but he wants to have a general manager/coach system with fairly equal power, the way the Dolphins are run now with GM Dennis Hickey and Philbin. Whether it is fair or not, Harbaugh has gotten a reputation of being difficult to work with and overly demanding. I also think Ross would very much want Harbaugh to coach Michigan. And I think Harbaugh is seriously considering that.
BOUNTY ON BECKHAM? Seems like Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is up to his old tricks of placing a bounty on an opposing player, as it was clear they were out to hurt Odell Beckham Jr. with numerous late hits. Some people never learn. Am I the only one who noticed?
—Marc, Hawthorne, N.J.
That's a pretty unfair assumption. Do you really think a man whose livelihood was taken away would do the same thing again, in his first year back as a defensive coordinator? I think that is nuts. Now, if you were to say that Gregg Williams and Jeff Fisher have always coached their defensive players to play until a hair after the whistle and to make sure opponents still feel hits four days later, I would say you’re absolutely right.
I did not like Alec Ogletree’s hit on Beckham that was clearly four feet out of bounds. That has no place in football. And I don’t want to hear that the momentum carried him out of bounds and forced him to make the play he did. I don’t buy it. It was an unnecessarily violent hit and provoked the kind of reaction that surprised no one.
CREDIT FOR THE RAIDERS. I'm not one of these Raider fans who thinks you have a bias. I believe the reason you (and many other writers) have been hard on the Raiders these past 10 years is because they deserve it. That being said I think it's time to give this front office credit for some of the moves they've made over the past year. The Raiders dominated the 2014 draft. If the NFL had a do-over, LB Khalil Mack and QB Derek Carr probably would go first and third overall. Guard Gabe Jackson, DT Justin Ellis and CB T.J. Carrie have all been solid players as well. McKenzie was blasted for letting Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston walk, yet both are looking to be good moves. The team-friendly veteran contracts have left lots of room to take a run at some premier free agents this offseason. If these guys can pull off another Grade A draft, the Raiders very well could be a serious contender for years to come.
—Brian G., Fairfield, Conn.
The Raiders are an interesting story right now, no doubt. But here's why I haven’t spent a lot of time or words on the Raiders in their recent 3-2 run of success: They’re out of it. They have been out of it since late October. And while I do try to write things about all 32 teams, what you’re talking about is probably best explored in the offseason (although I’m not saying I won’t write anything about them in the next few weeks).
PATRIOTS VS. SEAHAWKS. Do you think the Pats OL and the slow-footed Tom Brady would have a ghost of a chance against the Seahawks' front seven, never mind their secondary? I am trying to convince myself they do, but I have big doubts.
I have doubts too. But just remember this. After Kansas City beat the Patriots 41-7 three months ago, the offensive line was in shambles and Brady was too immobile to protect himself. You saw what happened then: Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels figured it out. Part of figuring it out is simply playing, using the people that you have (as Belichick always has done) and doing what they do well. They found a way to win all but one game since. A lot can change in six weeks, which is the time between when you are reading this and when the Super Bowl will be played. In today’s football no one makes adjustments better than the Patriots. They have proven it time and again. So just remember that the Patriots don’t have to play the Seahawks tomorrow and by the time they would have to play them there’s a good chance that each team will be significantly changed.
TEDFORD AND TAMPA. I know the Bucs are not relevant right now, but I was wondering if you had any insight about what happened between Lovie Smith and Jeff Tedford? The offense has really been nonexistent this year after so much promise at the beginning of the season. I know Tedford had heart surgery and was released from his contract at the beginning of the month, but he now is a head coach in the CFL and Lovie seems to want to avoid all questions about the situation. Did their relationship sour that quickly or is there more to the story?
—Matt, Willard, Ohio
I heard there was nothing really nefarious about the split. Tedford was ready to coach, and he wasn’t sure that he was going to have the kind of control over the Tampa offense he felt he needed to have after missing most of this year. At the same time, college jobs and this CFL jobs were coming open. He knew that if he waited until January to make some sort of determination on his future with Smith that the coaching merry-go-round might have stopped spinning and left him jobless for 2015. What I don’t know is whether he was offered to be the offensive coordinator with Tampa Bay in 2015 or not. And I also don’t know if the Bucs simply lost faith in Tedford to stay healthy for a full season, having seen the havoc that happened this year when they had to piece together the offense on the fly. I think it came down to the fact that both sides felt it was better that he move on.
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