It's mid-February. The NFL season has ended, culminating in the Seattle Seahawks' crowning as Super Bowl Champions. Everyone's back to square one in assembling their roster, trying to find a way to become the next surprising team, the next riser, the next dominating defense -- the next Seahawks.
In some aspects, that may seem easy, in others hard. There are so many layers to building a roster, many that go beyond the football field itself. There has to be a bond between coaches and the front office, and coaches and players. There has to be cohesion, a certain chemistry in schemes and the players themselves. The Seahawks have this, and in a copycat league, others are now trying to have the same in their building and on their football field.
Where do they start?
Philosophically speaking, the Seahawks are simple to copy defensively. They play an old man's game. They set out to punish, constantly beating them up until they submit. And if they don't submit, they will simply take a beating. It's unclear if their limbs will remain intact, however.
They do this by pressing their long-armed cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage, even when playing zone coverage, as seen in their Cover 3 calls. Consequently, receivers struggle to get off the line, allowing the cornerbacks to ride them out of the play.
Their safeties, particularly the linebacker-sized Kam Chancellor, deliver the beating in between the numbers. Chancellor is known as the enforcer in the middle and frequently comes down in short coverage to separate receivers from the ball, sometimes stealing it from them for a turnover. From an X and O standpoint, he's known as the "Robber" in the Cover 1 man scheme.
Both coverages come down to fundamentals and technique. The players need to get to their designated zonal landmarks in a hurry, then attack the ball downhill. They need to be patient in man, not to open their hips up too early or undercut a route early in an attempt to make a big play. This is simple, but there's more to the Seahawks than just scheme.
The Seahawks players call themselves the "misfits," referring to the many teams that passed them up in the draft for other height-weight-size players that supposedly fit their team better. Richard Sherman went in the fifth round, Kam Chancellor in the fifth, Byron Maxwell in the sixth, Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith in the seventh. All players who didn't necessarily fit other teams for a plethora of reasons, but found a home in Seattle.
Sherman was too raw for a receiver-turned-cornerback, and at 6'2 5/8, he was deemed not quick enough to deal with the small spread offense receivers because of his size. But he is long and strong enough to stop them from getting off the line, thus eliminating their quickness and them from games entirely. In Super Bowl XLVIII, Peyton Manning barely blinked in Sherman's direction.
The same was said about Chancellor, who is nearly an inch taller than Sherman, but also slower when running a 40-yard dash. He clocked in at a 4.62 at the NFL Combine, according to NFL Draft Scout, and hasn't always looked good with his back to the line of scrimmage. Now he plays facing the line of scrimmage and is an All-Pro. Simple enough.
Maxwell and Smith had injury issues, the former struggling to stay healthy with typical football injuries while the latter battled a rare form of throat condition. In addition to Smith's condition, he was considered small, measuring in at 6" and 226 pounds. Not small enough to become an MVP on the biggest stage.
Since their drafting, these players have made other teams look for players in their style, the Seahawks' style. This means very athletic linebackers that can matchup in both the run and passing fronts. Cornerbacks that are taller than six feet, and "have the body type to press, jam and open hips vertically," as ESPN Insider Louis Riddick explained to theScore in a phone conversation.
Riddick believes these teams hoping to take something from the Seahawks can find their own diamonds in the draft.
When asked about cornerbacks, he brought up a trio that starts with Lindenwood's Pierre Desir. Believed to be in the 6'1", 195-pound range, according to NFL Draft Scout, Desir is the type that the Seahawks love. He can batter receivers in press-man, and has technique that's "second-to-none," said Riddick, who also believes the cornerback can go early in the draft as long as he runs in the "low 4.5 or high 4.4's."
The two other names are Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Utah's Keith McGill, who are 6'2 and 6'3".
Concerning pass rushers, he offered one name he's kept his eye on: Auburn's Dee Ford, who is a Bruce Irvin/Cliff Avril/Chris Clemons-type. "Nobody has the arsenal Dee Ford has. Nobody."
These are all talented players but as Riddick said, "what separates one [team] from the next is what you do once you get them."
It goes beyond talent. It starts from the top of the stadium, where the front office personnel men oversee the team, to the bottom, where the groundskeeper roams. "They need to look at themselves first, and make sure the program is airtight," Riddick said. Everyone needs to be held accountable and treat each other with respect.
Riddick frequently brought up brotherhood, chemistry, taking care of players and letting them be themselves. He also pointed out head coach Pete Carroll's Master's thesis on Abraham Maslow's positive psychology, which plays a great factor in the aforementioned traits. All are vital to the Seahawks' blueprint.
At the end of the day, the best teams in the league are built this way. Some coaches, like the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick, who Riddick said "wasn't as much of an overlord as what people make him seem" when he played for him with the Cleveland Browns, are tougher on players than Carroll is, but still has a good relationship with them and lets them be themselves. Not to mention, he gets the most out of them.
This is what teams will have to do when assessing their plans this offseason. There's only a few that can come close to borrowing from the Seahawks' blueprint. They are the San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals, according to Riddick.
Any one of them can be the next Seattle Seahawks, the next Super Bowl champions.