Seahawks' new brain trust earns two thumbs up
The Seahawks' Pete Carroll and John Schneider got it right Thursday in their first day of their first NFL draft. Seattle filled two big needs by drafting longterm answers at left tackle and safety.
Seattle Times staff columnist
RENTON — Relax.
In the first NFL draft of the new era, the Seahawks didn't outthink themselves. They didn't outkick their coverage. They didn't get tricky.
New coach Pete Carroll, who won national championships at USC, didn't pick the best available Trojan. He didn't marinate inside the Pac-10.
The Seahawks played this first day of the NFL draft just right.
The new kids knew what they were doing.
They began Thursday night by going back to the future to find their future. Just as the franchise did 13 seasons ago, the Hawks drafted a cornerstone.
In 1997, with another No. 6 pick, they took the first steps in a long, painful rebuilding process, choosing left tackle Walter Jones and locking down that most important position for more than a decade.
The Seahawks rode Jones to the 2005 Super Bowl. Running behind him, Shaun Alexander won an MVP award, and standing in a pocket protected by Jones, Matt Hasselbeck went to Pro Bowls.
Now, 13 years after the Walter Jones draft, the Seahawks have selected his successor, Russell Okung.
"It was a tightly knit group that understood each other, that communicated," new offensive line coach Alex Gibbs said of the Seahawks' lines of the early to mid-2000s. "And they lost that. We've got to get it back. And we're hard at work, getting that done by the minute."
In the first pick of the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era, the Seahawks got lucky. Just in front of them, safety Eric Berry was chosen by Kansas City. The player they absolutely needed at the position they absolutely had to fill fell to them.
Okung may not be Walter Jones-good, but he is plenty good.
"He has a Tim Tebow-like approach to football," general manager Schneider said of Okung.
He's a natural pass protector with great feet and strong hips. He doesn't have Walter Jones' speed, but he has the reach (36 inches) coaches crave in a pass protector.
Gibbs called him "a line coach's dream," and, without hesitation, declared Okung the successor to Jones' throne. The job belongs to Okung and it should be his for the next decade.
"There are some things that are raw. There are some things he will struggle with, because he's young and he has to do it," Gibbs said. "We will throw him right in. He will be our starting left tackle. Day 1. Hour 1. And we will live with him through whatever the pain is.
"He's going to fit good and he's going to be Walter's replacement, obviously. That's why he was picked. It didn't happen a year ago, and people were aware of it, and we've made sure it's dealt with as quickly as possible."
To ease the transition, veteran tackle Ben Hamilton was signed this week by the Seahawks.
"You can't throw him (Okung) out there without someone to guide him," Gibbs said. "We needed a player who knew this system, to help him make the transfer. That's what we got Ben for. He's Coach 1, and I'm Coach 2."
In this first day of the rest of their lives, the Hawks got younger, faster and better.
With the second pick in Round 1, they chose 20-year-old safety Earl Thomas, the first playmaking safety the Hawks have had since 2004, when Michael Boulware was a rookie.
"You couldn't help but see his playmaking ability," Carroll said. "He's a ball hawk."
In the postdraft news conference Carroll and Schneider were almost giddy, teasing each other about their bowling night with Okung and kidding about the camera in the Hawks' war room that caught Schneider flexing his muscles at the end of the day.
But he deserved a few flexes. Schneider made the right calls. He found two starters to help fill his skinny roster.
"That was two of our primary goals," he said. "Do you draft by need? You'd be lying at some point if you said you didn't draft by need."
After a rather quiet first offseason, Schneider made some noise in prime time. Of course, it was hard to go wrong.
Because of their unenviable season, the Hawks found themselves in an enviable position, high up on the draft board, with an embarrassment of riches just a phone call away.
There may not be a needier franchise in football than the Seahawks.
"We have a long way to go," Schneider said after the first day of the new draft, "and we have a lot of needs."
Still, he couldn't have asked for a better start.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.