INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Seattle Seahawks changed offensive coordinators on the heels of a disappointing 2017 season, it seemed as though one of their primary motivations was to have a new voice in Russell Wilson's ear. Coach Pete Carroll apparently felt that was necessary in order to get even more out of his four-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
That was made clear Thursday in Carroll's first public comments about replacing Darrell Bevell with Brian Schottenheimer as part of sweeping changes to Seattle's coaching staff.
“Really good connection with the quarterback, really good communication, relationship with the QB," Carroll said of Schottenheimer's coaching. "He works directly with the quarterback more so than some other coordinators do. He’s got a good quarterback background, so I really like all of that for challenging Russell, giving him new looks, new outlooks, new perspective possibly, just to continue to grow."
Until his news conference at the scouting combine, Carroll hadn't spoken with the media about firing Bevell, defensive coordinator Kris Richard and offensive line coach Tom Cable, among others. At least eight assistants from last season won't return, making this by far the largest overhaul of Carroll's staff since he arrived in 2010.
Carroll didn't get into specifics of his reasoning for those firings, mostly speaking in vague terms about the decisions and instead elaborating on the replacements.
He called new offensive line coach Mike Solari "very strict, very disciplined" and said his blocking schemes will be more varied than the primarily zone attack Seattle ran under Cable.
"It gives us a chance to do a little bit different things than we've done in the past, a different variety and diversity in the stuff that we're doing," Carroll said, "but also brings us a wealth of experience in evaluations and that stuff, so we're very lucky."
Asked about firing Richard, Carroll said simply that it was "just time to make a change" and noted the "energy and the juice" that his replacement, Ken Norton Jr., brings. His comments did nothing to dispel the belief that turning back to Norton, his longtime assistant, might have as much to do with Norton's presence as a motivator and leader as with anything related to X's and O's. It's always been Carroll's defense no matter whom he's had coordinating it.
“I’ve always loved Kenny and I love what he brings," Carroll said. "I know the effect that he has on the players he has coached, the impact that he has, the attitude that he brings, the toughness. The extraordinary background he has comes out in his coaching, and his players respond to him."
While Seahawks fans had long been calling for Bevell's firing, the decision to replace him with Schottenheimer was met with a collective "meh" in the Pacific Northwest. At least it was by those assessing his credentials based solely on his bottom-line results in his first two stints as a coordinator with the Jets and Rams.
In nine seasons in that role, his offenses never ranked better than 11th in total yards and were 20th or worse seven times. The good? Schottenheimer helped coax strong enough play out of Mark Sanchez for the Jets to advance to consecutive AFC Championship Games during the quarterback's first two seasons. He was the Colts' quarterbacks coach in 2016 when Andrew Luck had one of the best seasons of his career. Schottenheimer had the same job with the Chargers during Drew Brees' early years with the team.
Schottenheimer won't have the title of QB coach in Seattle. That belongs to Dave Canales, who was moved into that role from receivers coach. But he might as well, to hear Carroll describe it.
He called Schottenheimer "a dedicated quarterback guy, which is a big deal to me." So it's clear that his job will entail a considerable amount of hands-on work with Wilson.
"I like the fact that we can connect the playcaller and the quarterback leader, and the guy that's going to be with him on the field as well on a regular basis," Carroll said. "I wanted to make that connection for Russell so we could communicate directly with him in a little bit different fashion than we have."
It's hardly as though Wilson is in disrepair. He led the NFL in touchdown passes last season with 34, tying a career high, and was a legitimate MVP candidate until the final few games.
An NFL-record 19 of those TD passes came in the fourth quarter. But while that stat is indicative of how unstoppable Wilson can be in crunch time, he was inexplicably shaky early in games last season. And there were plenty of times when the failure of a play could be traced to Wilson's not being as decisive as he needs to be.
Asked what's next in Wilson's development as he enters his seventh season, Carroll repeated a prediction he's made in the past, that Wilson will eventually complete 70 percent of his passes in a season. He set a career high of 68.1 percent in 2015 and had a career low of 61.3 percent this past season.
"It just means cleaning things up a little bit more, being more efficient and more precise," Carroll said. "He's grown so much, he's so much more aware than he was in earlier years, but this is the process that it takes. Every one of these years is another opportunity to grow. He’s been compared to the greatest quarterbacks who have ever played in our league and we always look at them when they're in Year 13, 14 or 11, and he’s not even there yet. He’s halfway to that kind of a number. So I think there's tremendous upside, and I know he thinks that too and he's looking forward to getting better and finding a way to contribute in a bigger way and be a bigger factor.
"The quarterback will always be a focal point in your development, and we're really excited about Schottenheimer coming in and Canales taking a hold of that thing and challenging him like maybe he's never been challenged before. That would be great."