Analysis: Seahawks Rookie Minicamp Deep-Dive

Seahawks rookie minicamp went far too fast. Thankfully, we still managed to see plenty of videos from the three-day event on Twitter. Matty F. Brown has studied the camera phone footage; he explains each Seahawks drill and looks at how the rookie class performed.
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Seahawks rookie minicamp has come and gone. It was sunny weather. The VMAC surroundings looked especially beautiful. And I was in England, getting rained on. 

Thankfully, a lot of the Seattle beat writers tweeted out videos of the practice sessions and, by the end of it all, we were left wanting more Seahawks 2021 football. While we saw new Seahawks going through drills, what exactly was the coaching staff hoping to achieve? Let me explain.

Unsurprisingly, we didn’t see much of the offense new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron is going to implement this fall. The Seahawks will want to keep as many details of Waldron’s attack as secret as possible. We will have to wait for real football for this to emerge, unfortunately. However, one interesting offensive element was visible in the Stone Forsythe highlight video tweeted out by the official Seahawks Twitter account.

Notice how all of the blocks Forsythe - and the rest of the offensive line - make are on an outside zone track. We know that Waldron comes from Sean McVay's system, which is based off an outside rushing attack. This early install is further confirmation of Seattle’s 2021 core running play.

The offense may have been working on drilling stuff that revealed the appearance of 2021 formations and concepts—hence the lack of released footage. The defense, however, split into positional groups to drill fundamentals that have always been present with Pete Carroll as the head coach.

Let’s start with the core defensive essential of tackling. Seattle is a leverage-based, shoulder tackling team. Their system, taking the head out of the game, has driven timely change across the nation and even reached me coaching in the United Kingdom. The following clip features linebackers coach John Glenn taking off-ball LBs Jon Rhattigan and Nate Evans through the early stages of pursuit-to-finish.

This would be branded a vice tackle drill. The LBs key the running back post-snap, tracking the near hip. They must close the space on the ball carrier. One player will have outside-in leverage; the other will pursue inside-out. They finish by buzzing or sweeping their feet, emphasizing to go with near-foot, near-hand. They then tap the near hip to signify a "tackle," as the contact levels are limited at this stage of the offseason. The player on the outside will tap the ball carrier with their inside hand and the player on the inside will tap the play with their outside hand. In a Seahawks defense where the linebackers are expected to make most of the tackles, this is the ideal second-level contact. 

You can see coach Glenn advanced the drill by adding an outside zone path element to it, aiming for the outside before cutting back upfield. This would have translated into the offense versus defense portion of practice. It stresses the importance of staying on that near hip and not overrunning the play.

For anyone attached to the Seahawks - fans, coaches, or players - it was so nice to see Darrell Taylor out on the practice field. Defensive assistant Aaron Curry appeared to spend most of the time working with Taylor. The 2020 second-round pick is going to be more of an outside player in his second year, working at SAM and LEO to see which fits best. Curry seems to be the outside linebacker/SAM specialist on Seattle's coaching staff this season, focusing on the on-ball LBs. The position is going to be really important with the Seahawks looking to continue their high usage of bear fronts.

Taylor looked decent standing up the sled. Then, during a block shedding drill, it was fascinating to hear this discussion between Curry and Taylor over the booming VMAC soundtrack. The players started slightly further from the line of scrimmage, reflecting their SAM LB status. After the first rep, Curry had feedback for Taylor which seemed to be stressing the importance of locking out the blocker before working free to the football. Curry didn’t appear to want Taylor snatching the blocker and almost flinging him at the linebackers. 

 “Hey, you can’t go like this [mimed side rip] he’s gonna drive you off the ball,” Curry said. “Lock ‘em out [mimed locking out]; arm over [mimed arm over move].”

Rather, guys down at the line of scrimmage in Seattle’s defense are expected to control blockers and keep the second level clean. Hence Curry miming controlling and manipulating the blocker with hands, thumbs up, grabbing the opponent’s breast plate. In addition, with how Taylor executed the drill, a real-life run blocker would be able to access his chest and move him.

I’d guess the drill was working 6-technique alignment play, where the head-up on the tight end SAM attacks for knock back and quasi two gaps, mirror stepping after the knockback to find the ball. Crucially, the men behind are kept free to flow. 

“We’ll work on it, we’ll work on it,” Curry finished after Taylor’s second attempt.

No. 48 Marcus Webb, a UDFA from Troy who Seattle waived last year, and No. 43 Aaron Donkor, the German linebacker awarded to Seattle via the NFL international player program, are the other two men in the SAM LB group.

The defensive back videos were some of the most detailed in the Seahawks' drills. First up we have the safeties, headed by defensive assistant and former Seattle defensive back DeShawn Shead. The DBs were being taught the off-man coverage technique described to me as “skootch,” and utilized in cover 1 situation. The safety aligns with outside leverage on their man, in order to be a body presence down the weak part of the seam. Seattle sets out to prevent seam routes in middle field closed defense like cover 1 or cover 3.

By taking the skootch steps to read the receivers release and maintain the initial cushion distance, the defenders are able to reroute receivers looking to vertically release through their cylinder—almost like “catch” technique. From there, the safety can work to the low shoulder on these vertical stems and funnel the receiver to their middle field help: the other safety in the post.

In this example, we see No. 37 Joshua Moon gaining depth in his skootch reading the receiver. He is able to key and break from his low position on the out route, undercutting the football thanks to his outside leverage. There is little wasted movement. The other men who participated in the drill were No. 39 Aashari Crosswell and No. 42 LaDarius Wiley.

Seattle’s method of bump-and-run coverage is much-talked about as ‘step-kick’ or ‘kick-step’ press technique. But what does that actually mean? We got some great illustrations of the newbie corners learning the methodology.

The technique is used in cover 1 and cover 3 read technique. The cornerback aligns on the inside eye of the receiver. They key the release of the receiver. Until the receiver has fully declared which way they're going, the corner must stay square and not open the gate, instead denying space and flattening the receiver.

The one route the CB must absolutely stop with this technique is the fade (go) vertical route, which mainly arrives via an outside release. The Seahawks are okay with giving up outside release comebacks because they want their corners to stay over the top of the receiver in bump-and-run to primarily remove the fade.

In fact, more inexperienced or less confident corners are taught an outside read step. This small lateral step with the outside foot allows them to really take away the outside release routes first and foremost. The step must be lateral, or even slightly backwards, to prevent the hips from locking to the outside transition. From there, the body positioning forces the receiver to run somewhat around the corner, winning the redline and reducing the available space for the ball to be threaded in.

You can see passing game coordinator Andre Curtis stepping with his outside foot and then reading Bryan Mills going to his inside. Once Mills went inside and left Curtis’s frame, Curtis kicks to the inside for the transition. Fourth-round pick Tre Brown tried a similar approach but wanted to be more active with his feet, a result of his commonly used inch-to-mirror technique deployed at Oklahoma. (However, Richard Sherman also gets a bit twitchy with his outside read step, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing).

When the Seahawks have their corners press, they want them to bring their arms with their feet. With their footwork, they want to fully take the air out of the receiver release with their footwork before the clear declaration.

The arms accompany position maintenance as the tools for disruption. The arms are aimed at the pecs of the receiver and it’s important the player does not lunge when bringing them, hence the Seahawks’ historic love of long corners. Seattle wants its press DBs to play from two-arms to one-arm to zero-arms in press. If the receiver releases close enough for the two arm, Seattle wants that as the starting point every time.

This differs from most teams, where coaches get scared that bumping with two arms will result in the hips locking for the transition. In order to avoid this hip-locking, and apart from needing decent athletes, the Seahawks aren’t afraid to have their corners take lateral and backwards steps when reading the release prior to clear declaration.

For Brown going up against Mills, the playing of 2-to 1-to-0 arms was what he seemed to struggle with. Here is Curtis clapping his initial efforts, coming on day one of camp.

Then here is Curtis on day two showing Brown, again, how to play with 2-to-1-to-0 and stay over the top with the outside release route. Brown was struggling with remembering the technique—possibly getting confused with the cover 2 cloud technique work that was featured on day two of minicamp. Curtis wanted to emphasize the riding and flattening of the release 2-to-1-to-0 with position maintenance. In the last rep Brown had better kick footwork but needed to stay on two arms longer.

Finally, we have cover 2 reroute reps, with Brown once more going up against fellow CB Mills. The cornerback in this instance, playing as one of the five underneath zone defenders, is tasked with disrupting any outside release routes. This is because their over the top help is the safety. This safety is responsible for a deep half zone of the field and is aligned on the inside of the cornerback. For the safety to make a play on a deep throw to the No. 1 receiver near the sideline, he requires time to read from the No. 2 to the No. 1 receiver and also vision the quarterback. The corner is the buyer of time and squeezer of space.

Brown did a nice job of kicking outside with the wide outside release of Mills while getting two arms on the pec of the receiver. From there, no longer threatened vertically, Brown played to one arm disruption and was able to hip flip his butt to the sideline in order to acquire quarterback vision. This butt to sideline play, sometimes known as ‘sail technique,' is important for a cover 2/cloud corner as it enables them to make plays on the ball and also watch the No. 2 receiver inside of them. That way they get underneath a vertical route from No. 2 to help out the deep half safety, say a corner route, or jumping a No. 2 out route designed to out-leverage the curl zone player—the underneath defender further inside. 

If this article has left you with any questions, hit me up on Twitter @mattyfbrown