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John Schneider: Better Fortune, Young Nucleus Create Optimism About Seahawks' Future

Little went right amid a challenging season choked full of injuries and narrow losses for Seattle. But Schneider believes the organization remains positioned to bounce back quickly in part due to the presence of several intriguing young talents on the roster.

INDIANAPOLIS - Dealing with injuries and unexpectedly dismal production on offense, the Seahawks suffered through their first double-digit loss season in more than a decade, finishing the 2021 campaign in last place in the rugged NFC West and missing the playoffs for only the third time in 12 years.

The poor performance on the field undoubtedly left a bad taste in general manager John Schneider's mouth, as the renowned executive isn't used to seeing his team sitting at home for the postseason, let alone flailing to a top 10 draft choice that doesn't even belong to them. Instead, the Jets hold that selection as part of the blockbuster trade for safety Jamal Adams two years ago, adding insult to injury.

While the season didn't come close to meeting Schneider's high expectations and they don't have that coveted top-10 pick, he isn't discouraged in regard to the franchise's future. As a matter of fact, he told reporters while speaking at the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday that he sees plenty of reasons to be confident the Seahawks will be able to return to playoff contention in quick order, including having better fortune bestowed upon them in close games.

"It was hard. It was really hard," Schneider responded when asked to share his thoughts on the season. "But it also creates this excitement about like, 'okay, we know how to do it. We've been here before.' We're going to do it again. All these games are, you look at just the playoffs. All those were phenomenal games. And we had so many games that were so close that it could have gone, a play here, a play there, turn over here, turn over there."

As Schneider indicated, Seattle did lose a number of games in the closing minutes that easily could have been victories if the ball bounced differently on a play or two. In the past, the team has consistently excelled winning and finishing off one-score games, including going 11-3 in one-score regular season and postseason contests in 2019.

But living on the edge finally came back to bite the Seahawks last season. With the margin for error shrinking thanks to Russell Wilson missing time and struggling in his initial return from a ruptured tendon in his right middle finger, they lost five games decided by three points or less, including a pair of overtime defeats at the hands of the Titans and Steelers. If a few of those games would have gone differently, a return to the playoffs may have been in the cards.

What truly gives Schneider reason to be optimistic about Seattle's chances for a rapid rebound, however, is the young core of talented players waiting in the wings ready to make an impact for the team on both sides of the football.

Injuries have been a persistent issue the Seahawks have battled with early draft picks in recent years. 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny missed 28 combined games in his first four seasons and 2019 second-round pick Marquise Blair has missed more than 20 games with a pair of knee injuries, while 2020 second-round pick Darrell Taylor missed his entire rookie season and 2021 second-round pick Dee Eskridge missed seven games with a severe concussion last season.

Unfortunately for Schneider and company, this poor injury luck hasn't been limited to first and second-round selections either. Along with Eskridge missing nearly half of his rookie year along with sitting out a significant portion of offseason workouts, fourth-round pick Tre Brown's promising start to his NFL career came to a halt after playing in just five games at cornerback due to a patellar tendon injury in his knee. Second-year tight end Colby Parkinson also missed multiple games with a broken foot for a second straight year.

Despite all of these injuries, Schneider still has high hopes for all of those players and believes each of them can be difference makers for the Seahawks. In the case of Taylor and Penny, fans finally got to see what they could do when healthy as the former generated 6.5 sacks to finish tied for second on the team last year and the latter exploded for over 700 rushing yards in the final six games of the regular season. Before going down in Week 11, Brown also flashed, allowing eight receptions on 17 targets for 75 yards and no touchdowns.

"It's an exciting time. I mean, there's so many cool young guys that haven't even been able to [play for us]," Schneider commented. "Like two years ago, I told you that [Marquise] Blair was one of our top three guys on our team in training camp, and he has a freak injury. He has a freak injury he's coming off. He's worked his tail off, and then he gets hurt again this year. Rashaad Penny had a rough go to start. He had durability issues and then all of a sudden he takes off, and we haven't even really seen D'Wayne [Eskridge] yet, or Tre Brown was playing real well."

As Schneider noted, Seattle's young core isn't limited to players who have been slowed by injuries. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks earned an All-Pro vote after leading the NFL with a whopping 184 tackles last season and looks poised to take the torch from Bobby Wagner in the middle. In the trenches, tackle Stone Forsythe may still be a factor in the team's plans after only seeing a handful of snaps in a "redshirt" rookie season, while defensive end Alton Robinson could see a significant uptick in opportunities in his third season.

In the end, Schneider knows the Seahawks must do a better job of developing these young players, acquiring talent in general, and improving depth to withstand the attrition of an NFL season. As he put it, they need to be 69 players deep and develop players "all the way through the season" to put themselves in the best position to contend in the best division in the sport. With players such as Penny set to hit free agency, accomplishing that task won't be easy. Talent retention never is.

But after the Seahawks endured their worst season under his watch, Schneider is taking those challenges on personally to ensure history won't repeat itself in 2022. The buck stops with him and a revamped coaching staff to check off those boxes. If they succeed and several of their young players stay healthy and ascend into key roles as hoped, fortunes could change quickly with the team climbing right back into the mix in the NFC West.