RENTON, Wash. — The Seattle Seahawks are undergoing their most significant defensive shift under coach Pete Carroll.
They have a new coordinator in Clint Hurtt, who was promoted before Seattle hired a pair of high-ranking assistants to work with him. The new brain trust of Carroll — Hurtt, associate head coach Sean Desai and defensive passing game coordinator Karl Scott — is installing a refreshed scheme that it hopes will fix the issues that led to some historically futile stretches in each of the past two seasons.
Consider safety Jamal Adams a fan.
“It’s really exciting,” Adams said during minicamp. “We brought in some coaches that really are eager to teach everybody. It’s a defense that I know [Quandre] Diggs and I are really excited to be a part of. It’s very aggressive to where we can be interchangeable, to where we can make a lot of plays on the back end.”
Perhaps no one on Seattle’s defense stands to benefit more from the scheme changes than Adams, the strong safety who made the Pro Bowl during a record-setting debut season in Seattle in 2020 but was underwhelming during a disappointing 2021 follow-up.
Actually, the strong- and free-safety designations might be less applicable to Adams and Diggs in Seattle’s new defense.
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In the front seven, the Seahawks will incorporate more 3-4 looks in a continuation of the shift that began last season. On the back end, they’ll run more split-safety looks — a hallmark of the Vic Fangio system that Hurtt and Desai learned as assistants under Fangio with the Chicago Bears. The idea is that if Adams and Diggs are both aligned as high safeties before the snap, opposing quarterbacks can’t determine as easily who is doing what on a given play.
On a larger scale, the goal is to keep offenses guessing by being able to run multiple coverages out of the same pre-snap alignment.
“I think it’s going to help both of us,” Diggs said. “I think guys can’t automatically tag [Adams] and say he’s in the box and he’s blitzing and slide his way. I’ve always learned from the different quarterbacks that I play with. They always watch the backside safety. And now with the backside safety just showing something different or kind of sitting there … you don’t know what we are in. You don’t know what checks we have. So I think that’s going to be dope.”
The belief inside the Virginia Mason Athletic Center is that Adams went from 9.5 sacks in 2020 — the most by a defensive back since sacks became an official stat in 1982 — to zero last season in large part because he became too easy for opponents to pinpoint. With offenses paying more attention to Adams, the Seahawks significantly dialed back his blitzing. He averaged four per game compared to 8.25 in 2020, even though he played 5.75 more snaps per game as Seattle’s defense struggled to get off the field.
But some in the organization think more creativity with how Adams was deployed as a blitzer would have made him less predictable.
“If every time this guy’s in this position, he’s doing this, well, it makes it easier for that opponent to say, ‘OK, he’s here, we’re doing this,'” said Scott, who coaches defensive backs in addition to his defensive passing game coordinator role. “Whereas if he’s in this position, now he’s going to the half, he’s blitzing, now he’s playing curl-flat … now the multiples occur and now it’s the guessing game on them. Kind of taking the chalk back and having the chalk last to dictate what they’re doing instead of them dictating to us.”
Adams and Diggs will have more freedom to move around pre-snap in order to disguise defensive looks and make that guessing game even harder on opposing quarterbacks.
“If you know the nuances of what offenses are looking for, that can help you as a player disguise and have a little bit of control in what you’re disguising,” Scott said. “Because at the end of the day, you’re trying to disguise to fool them, not yourself. It’s kind of like organized chaos.”
The four-year, $70 million extension Adams signed last summer likely ties him to the Seahawks for at least the next two seasons, as they’d incur more than $21 million in dead money by moving on from him before then. So he’s far from at a crossroads in Seattle. But Adams does need to produce more like he did in 2020 for the Seahawks to justify the investment they have made — two first-round picks and a record extension to keep him.
The changes to Seattle’s scheme will only make a difference for Adams if he can stay healthy. That includes a twice-torn left shoulder labrum that required surgery in each of the past two offseasons. He and Diggs — who’s also coming off surgery after dislocating his ankle and breaking his fibula in last season’s finale — took part in walk-throughs during minicamp. Adams left no doubt he’ll be full-speed by the time training camp begins on July 27, while Diggs said his plan is to be back by then.
Adams also had repeat surgeries this offseason on the ring and middle fingers of his left hand, which he started dislocating in 2020. They’re fused at such an angle that he can no longer fully bend them into a fist.
Between the injuries to his shoulder and fingers, Adams said he “played with one arm damn-near for two years.”
“It’s for the love of the game,” he said. “Been going through that for two years now. My first year when I got here, I dislocated by ring finger probably about 10 times, and the other one probably about … 12. Been dealing with that. Ain’t really said much. Let everybody talk about it, whatever. But it’s good now, and they’re in trouble.”
New fingers, new shoulder, new coaches, new scheme.
Can all that unlock the Adams of old?