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Originally published Saturday, April 21, 2012 at 6:24 PM

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Seahawks prepare for NFL draft with air of confidence

The Seahawks' general philosophy about the draft remains the same — get the best players who fit their tastes.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Thursday

NFL draft, 5 p.m., ESPN

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At this time a year ago, Seahawks general manager John Schneider offered a sobering, honest assessment of a team coming off a playoff appearance despite a 7-9 record.

"We still think we're in the infancy of our development," he said before the 2011 draft.

Back then, the Seahawks didn't have a starting quarterback on the roster. They had a shaky offensive line, a mostly unaccomplished receiving corps, huge questions at cornerback and little depth on the defensive line. They were also three months from separating from their defensive leader, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Heck, they even had uncertainty at kicker. The "infancy" comment was optimistic. The rebuilding Seahawks were still in the womb.

A year later, it's easy to see what time, maturation, player development and good decision-making has done for the franchise. The Seahawks went 7-9 again last season, but they grew up while doing so. A playoff nucleus is developing. In free agency, they signed quarterback Matt Flynn to go with Tarvaris Jackson. They're not in infancy anymore.

"We're definitely at a different place," Schneider said.

And how does stability translate to this NFL draft? It allows the Seahawks to be mysterious, of course, even though they have some clear needs.

During the first two drafts of the Schneider/Pete Carroll era, the Seahawks needed everything, and they've done solid work getting younger and improving the roster's overall talent. Now, because they're not so needy, they have the freedom to be more creative, in a sense. But there's also the temptation to risk reaching for players to fill a few remaining needs because it's easier to make the case that the Seahawks can be a playoff team by simply tightening a couple of bolts.

Schneider doesn't have his wrench out, however. Though at a different place, the Seahawks' general philosophy remains the same — get the best players who fit their tastes. Don't become a prisoner of need, but don't become a prisoner of progress, either. Build this thing to last.

"When you look at the draft in particular and some of the areas in free agency that we've addressed, I think it's put us in a position to just let the draft kind of come to us and not feel like we need to move around or not do anything that would put the organization in jeopardy in any one position," Schneider said.

Right now, the Seahawks have six picks over seven rounds, including the No. 12 overall pick in the NFL draft, which begins Thursday. (Their fifth-round pick goes to Buffalo to satisfy the Marshawn Lynch trade.) If the Seahawks don't make any trades for extra picks, which is quite unlikely, it would be the smallest of three Schneider/Carroll draft classes.

The Seahawks need to be more efficient than ever in this draft, which is saying something because they've done quality work so far. In two drafts, the Seahawks have found seven players who have become starters, including two Pro Bowl safeties in Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. The Seahawks have basically followed a formula of keeping it simple in the first three rounds to ensure they don't suffer an embarrassing miss. But they've really thrived under Schneider and Carroll in selecting after the third round. In particular, they've racked up smart draft decisions in the middle rounds.

The Schneider/Carroll front office has made seven selections in the fourth and fifth rounds over two drafts. Three of those players — Chancellor, Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright — are starters. Another, cornerback Walter Thurmond, has shown promise when healthy. Kris Durham, a fourth-round pick a year ago, is expected to get his shot this season after recovering from shoulder surgery. Two of those seven middle-round picks, defensive end E.J. Wilson (fourth round, 2010) and defensive back Mark LeGree (fifth round, 2011), didn't even make it through their rookie season in Seattle.

So they're not perfect, but the Seahawks are making good use of the draft, especially in the middle rounds. It gives you confidence that they'll do just fine for a third time. Before the draft is finished, they need to address issues with their pass rush and at linebacker, and overall, they could use more explosive, speedy playmakers on both sides of the ball.

But they're not desperate for anything, really, which is a credit to how far they've come in only two drafts.

"I think we have a ways to go — don't get me wrong," Schneider said. "I think we're headed down the right track, but we're in a position now where we've kind of covered ourselves a little bit where we can just sit and be prepared."

They'll be prepared. And they'll make some decisions we don't see coming. But if the past two years are any indication, it's best to trust their judgment.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @JerryBrewer

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