RENTON, WA - Throughout his storied coaching career, competition has been at the heart of coach Pete Carroll's philosophy. From the players, to the coaches, to all other personnel involved with his team, he has always been a believer that establishing a culture built around relentless competition brings out the best in everyone and critical to achieving success.
As one of only three head coaches in history to win a major college football championship and a Super Bowl, nobody can question the efficacy of Carroll's approach. Under his leadership, the Seahawks have made the postseason nine times in 11 seasons, a testament to his mission to "do things better than they have ever been done before.”
But like any great coach - as he demands of his players and assistants - Carroll seeks out his shortcomings after each season, assessing what he did well and finding ways to improve. Interestingly, looking back at last season, the 70-year old coach has been critical of his failure to cultivate as competitive of an environment as possible on numerous occasions in recent months.
Following Saturday's third open training camp practice, Carroll delved even deeper into his self-evaluation, telling reporters he didn't do a good enough job providing chances for every player to battle for a roster spot and push starters last summer. Specifically, in retrospect, he regretted how he handled tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, whose emergence in the final month of the season served as the catalyst for the coach getting back to his ultra-competitive roots this offseason.
"I’m going to tell you something flat out, I messed up last year," Carroll said candidly. "Cedric looks like a left tackle, he was drafted in the first round, has played left and right tackle, but I wanted him to develop as a left tackle. He wanted to be a right tackle to tell you the truth. He said that and I didn’t give him enough credit for how important it was for him to compete at that spot."
The Seahawks signed Ogbuehi, a former first-round pick out of Texas A&M, to a one-year contract in free agency in March 2020. In his two previous seasons, he didn't start a game for the Bengals and Jaguars, but Carroll still believed in his talent and felt he could develop into a quality insurance policy behind starter Duane Brown.
Coming out of camp, Ogbuehi missed the first three games with a pectoral injury before finally making his Seahawk debut in Week 4 against the Dolphins. He played just 14 offensive snaps through the first nine games, but an injury to starting right tackle Brandon Shell thrust him into the lineup against the Cardinals in Week 11.
Though he struggled in his first start at Philadelphia, after Shell re-tweaked his ankle injury in Week 14, Ogbuehi filled in marvelously during Seattle's final three games. Facing formidable defensive lines consisting of the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, and Washington Football Team, he surrendered a grand total of three pressures, one quarterback hit, and zero sacks, easily playing the best football of his career.
“He did do well, we don’t have any doubt about Cedric’s movement, ability, strength, all of that," Carroll added. "He just has to grow and develop as the player that you can count on a regular basis, which he’s hasn’t had a chance to do that yet."
After playing so well down the stretch, Carroll made sure to tell Ogbuehi during the player's exit meeting that he felt he hadn't given him a proper shot to win the right tackle job. Even with Shell returning as the incumbent starter, he promised that opportunity wouldn't be taken away from him again in 2021.
Thus far in camp, Carroll has held firm on that promise, commending line coach Mike Solari for mixing and matching lineups thus far. Shell received the majority of the first team snaps during the first two practices, while Ogbuehi jumped into the lineup on Saturday with his first chance to impress in a wide-open competition between two veterans who proved themselves as capable starters last season.
"He’s worthy physically, and smart enough," Carroll said of Ogbuehi. "He just needs playing time and to gain control of his game and he’s going at it. Brandon Shell is a terrific right tackle; we have no problem with B. Shell being our starting right tackle. But now Cedric is going for it. He’s trying to get that job from him and it’s good, old-fashioned competition. They’re going to battle it out and the best man is going to win."
The ripple effects of Carroll's conversation with Ogbuehi, and likely several other players last January, can be seen on the practice fields at the VMAC. The Seahawks and their well-renowned coach have recaptured their mentality, as intense competitions are being waged in every single position group and there's a different energy to camp this time around.
When asked about which positional battles he's most intrigued by after Wednesday's practice, Carroll struggled to find a stopping point. He raved about the ongoing running back battle, the plethora of quality players vying for snaps at cornerback, tight ends duking it out trying to establish a pecking order, essentially listing off everything except for quarterback and punter during his drawn out response.
While some may point to the coach simply behaving like his typical enthusiastic self, after not meeting his own expectations fostering the level of competition his program has been known for over the years, Carroll isn't about to let that be the case in camp again. After not giving Ogbuehi and others a fair shake in his estimation, jobs and roster spots will be up for grabs across the board and rightfully earned over the next several weeks, just the way he prefers it.
"I just felt like I didn’t do a good enough job and it was really good for me too because it snapped me back into competition. Competition is everything around here and I missed that opportunity last year to give him [Ogbuehi] the opportunity to show off where he fit. You can hear me, in all of these positions, it’s affected me because that’s my roots, and I just screwed it up. I didn’t do enough, so I’m going to do better.”