Seattle’s Gang of Misfits

At the 1983 Aspen Design conference, a man spoke about the future of technological design. He preached simplicity. “The current wave of industrial design is Sony’s high-tech look, which is gunmetal grey, maybe paint it black, do weird stuff to it,” he said. “It’s easy to do that. But it’s not great.” The alternative? “What we’re going to do is make the products high-tech, and we’re going to package them cleanly so that you know they’re high-tech. We will fit them in a small package, and then we can make them beautiful and white.” The speaker was Apple’s Steve Jobs, whose philosophy would drive the company to prolific success in the coming decades.

In many ways, building a dominant football team at the professional level is very similar to outgunning your competitors in the business realm. The most important part of manufacturing competent rosters is finding a proper philosophy for player acquisition. Since returning to the NFL in 2010, Pete Carroll and executive John Schneider have accumulated a wealth of cheap, talented athletes to fuel a historic defense and a physical offense. The result: a 60-36 record that includes two super bowl trips and one championship.

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Like Jobs, Carroll relies on simple philosophies to outclass the rest of the league: Acquire unique talent and let them do what comes naturally. To properly understand Carroll’s theory on player acquisition, it’s important to begin with his vision for a football team. Defensively, Carroll keeps things simple with a 4-3 scheme that emphasizes aggression and athleticism. I won’t get too deeply into the nuts and bolts of how the concepts operate, but the defensive line requires unique athletes capable of playing multiple positions and two gap linemen who take up multiple blockers and clog running lanes.

The secondary levels require excellent speed from the free safety and strength from a strong safety that Carroll often brings down to the box to help stop the run. Fast linebackers are a must. Offensively, physicality is emphasized. The linemen are often above average in size, with physical runners behind them. Tall receivers are the norm. And all Carroll asks from his signal caller is to distribute the ball efficiently while minimizing risk. The result is a heavy amount of of controlled violence in every Seahawks game.Their roster plays at an incredible speed because Carroll gives his players clarity with tactics built to allow player freedom.

On every play, Seattle’s players are encouraged to play the style that comes instinctively. He collects these stars by embracing their uniqueness, instead of shying away from it. Most teams around the league will overlook a player they don’t feel fits a prototype while Seattle adds these misfits and builds the system around them. Quarterback Russell Wilson isn’t forced to be a pocket passer. The Seattle offense incorporates what he does well by using his elusiveness as part of their running game. Kam Chancellor isn’t forced to cover much as a safety, instead his aggressiveness is employed down in the box. All over the roster, we can discover unique talents who play the way they were born to play.

This year, Seattle has brought in a former defensive back turned runner in CJ Prosise. A versatile lineman in Quinton Jefferson. They’ve also brought in Kenny Lawler, a Cal product with some of the largest hands in recent draft history for a receiver. These prospects all have question marks, but they also have the uniqueness that the Seahawks embrace. It’s impossible to know how they’ll be used, but if Carroll’s recent history tells us anything, all they’ll have to do is be themselves.

Follow Olivier Joseph on Twitter @ojj111

 

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