By Brian Nemhauser
Brian Nemhauser is a full-time father and Director of Product Management, and a part-time founder of HawkBlogger.com. His wife could not stand hearing one more thing about the Seahawks, so now he pours all his passion for the team into his blog. He is a regular guest on the Dave “Softy” Mahler show on Sports Radio KJR AM. Follow him on Twitter at @hawkblogger.
Try to remember the last time you saw a short tall person. If that is proving difficult, take a shot at thinking about the first time you saw a circular square.
Go ahead. Take some time to consider when you have seen something where two opposing descriptions both applied. Seahawks fans may be the quickest to the punch on this, as coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have combined to create a roster that manages to be both specialized and versatile. This marriage of versatility and specialization has created an ultra-talented roster that can combat any type of foe.
People like to believe that Schneider finds talent where others miss it. The truth is that he works in concert with Carroll, who finds ways to utilize players with unique talents by putting them in schemes and specialized roles that accentuate their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. Kam Chancellor was a fifth-round pick in 2010 who brought unique qualities to the team. He was immediately the largest safety in the NFL, leading many to wonder if he would eventually become a linebacker.
Carroll, who cherishes players who have unique talents, saw something different. He saw a player who could eventually be the next dynamic strong safety, equally adept at covering tight ends, defending the run, and punishing receivers who dared to cross the middle of the field. Chancellor is not asked to cover large swaths of the field like his safety partner Earl Thomas. He is put in position to succeed with the strengths he has. He is not alone.
Brandon Browner is the largest cornerback in the NFL. He made the Pro Bowl in 2011, but his value to many teams in the NFL is far less than it is for the Seahawks because of the customized role he is asked to play. That great length and strength is invaluable when asked to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, but is a liability when asked to play off the line. The Seahawks have a scheme that protects him with a safety like Thomas lurking behind him as a backstop.
Red Bryant is one of the largest defensive ends in football, and rarely rushes the passer. His special ability to stop the run can be introduced into the system because the scheme allows for the pass rush to come from elsewhere. Chris Clemons bounced around the NFL for years as a backup before registering 11-plus sacks in three straight years for Seattle. This was not because he was incapable of it earlier, but because the role he is asked to fill for the Seahawks is tailored to his unique ability to rush the passer. Not everyone on a roster can be a specialist in a league where there is a 53-man roster limit. Players must be able to fill multiple needs.
Start with the offensive line. Tom Cable, assistant head coach and offensive line coach, cross trains every lineman to play at least two positions. Paul McQuistan is the king of versatility because he can play either guard position and either tackle position. Very few players in the NFL are capable of playing left tackle and guard. The Seahawks have two in McQuistan and undrafted rookie Alvin Bailey.
It does not end there. Newcomer Percy Harvin can play two of the three receiver positions and running back. Receiver Phil Bates has received some snaps at fullback. New defensive lineman Michael Bennett can play three of the four positions on the line. Walter Thurmond III can play all three cornerback positions. Bruce Irvin can play defensive end and linebacker. The list goes on and on.
This versatility not only allows the Seahawks to adapt weekly to the opponents they face, but adjust play by play. Bennett may start a game at LEO defensive end, a pass-rushing position where his extra bulk also makes him a superior run defender, but slide inside to defensive tackle if the opponent is doing more passing than running. That allows the Seahawks to add another pass rusher to the field in someone like Cliff Avril or Chris Clemons. The Seahawks defense can face Tom Brady one week and Adrian Peterson the next and construct a game plan to attack them with uniquely talented puzzle pieces.
Every player who can play another position gives Schneider more flexibility when constructing the final 53-man roster, and leaves the Seahawks less susceptible to a season-altering injury. If James Carpenter continues to have injury issues, Bailey can be asked to spend more time working at guard instead of tackle.
This formula of finding players with undeniable strengths who have weaknesses that scare off other teams, combined with the ingenuity to put players at multiple positions, gives the Seahawks a decided advantage in the NFL arms race. Carroll and Schneider have a high-performance sports car while everyone else is riding horseback.
It is an advantage not easily copied, and one that could be the key to Seattle’s first Super Bowl championship.
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