Seahawks gambled they could make Drew Nowak a starting center and Cary Williams a starting cornerback. Wrong. But Pete Carroll does not seem to let pride get in the way of change.
After reaching consecutive Super Bowls, the Seahawks, regarding their player personnel decisions, are entitled to some mulligans. Meet this season’s mulligans: Drew Nowak and Cary Williams.
Neither the starting center nor the starting cornerback opposite Richard Sherman in the season opener were on the 46-man active roster Sunday. They were simply benched for lack of production. In the middle of the season. Their replacements did well enough that no one spotted a drop-off in Sunday’s 39-30 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Backup DeShawn Shead stepped in for Williams, the Seahawks’ top free-agent acquisition in the past off-season who makes $4.6 million, and was in on 10 tackles and defended four passes.
Patrick Lewis started his third game in place of Nowak and was part of a season-best pass protection that allowed QB Russell Wilson to have arguably the premier passing day of his career.
Regarding the force-feeding of Nowak, an undrafted free agent who was a defensive lineman at Western Michigan, the job of replacing veteran Max Unger, the question to Pete Carroll was: Any regrets?
“Now that I see how he’s doing,” he said last week, “I’ll say yes to that. Guys don’t do that very often, do they?”
No, coaches don’t. Admitting errors in judgment is not a comfortable thing in the ruthless world of the NFL, where career trapdoors abound. But Carroll and general manager John Schneider have had way more hits than misses, although it’s always fun to bring up Matt Flynn and Charlie Whitehurst, just to keep them humble.
Carroll said their expectations were too high for Nowak.
“We really set our sights on trying to get Drew going,” he said. “We thought that there was going to be a quick upsurge in his play. It was hard for him in making the transition.
“So as I look back now, I would’ve liked to have given Patrick a chance earlier so that we would’ve compared it. But we still would’ve wanted to see how Drew would develop. His learning curve is just going to take a little bit longer. It just didn’t happen as fast as we needed it to.”
Lewis, who blocked for Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, was a part-time starter in 2014 when Unger was injured, so he had a bit of incumbency. But the coaches worried that Lewis was a reluctant talker when it came time to make the blocking calls prior to each snap.
How did the coaches fix it? “I put a quarter in him and he went off,” said assistant Tom Cable, smiling at his own joke. More seriously: “He understood that was his issue last year and addressed it.”
Carroll said since Nowak could play only the one position, while backup center Lemuel Jeanpierre could play guard too, the decision was made to cut Nowak Monday. But since he cleared waivers Tuesday, the Seahawks re-signed him to the practice squad Wednesday.
Cable said benching starters is always a group decision.
“That’s one of the special things about this place,” Cable said. “We have two great leaders (Carroll and Schneider) and they lay it out there and ask, ‘How are you feeling? What are you seeing?’ No one comes in and says, ‘That guy’s out and this guy’s in.’ We talk about about it. It’s pretty cool.
“Letting Drew go was hard, but this team has other issues and we have to get the roster right Sunday.”
At cornerback, the Seahawks saw too many missed coverages by Williams, a nine-year vet who hasn’t adjusted to the way the coaches like the position played.
The spot was becoming a liability because offenses rarely throw to Sherman’s side. But Seattle has been shorthanded at cornerback all season and could not afford to cut him. So they deactivated him Sunday, and depending on how the competition plays out in practice, may do so again. Carroll indicated Shead had done nothing to get pulled from the starting job.
A diminished role for a veteran always carries the risk that he’ll withdraw. Sherman was asked about that.
“He (Williams) is not taking it as, ‘I’m sitting down, so pout and be selfish,’” Sherman said. “He understands it’s giving Shead an opportunity to go out there and play a little bit. So he’s helping as much as he can, whether that’s coaching him up, or what he sees. He’s keeping a positive attitude the entire time, That’s what makes him a pro.”
Even though the evidence says there was need for change at both positions, some coaching staffs can remain stubborn, avoiding what they perceive as the greater risk of looking bad. But Carroll established that embarrassment is not an issue.
In 2012, it looked bad when they spent big free agent money on QB Flynn, who then was beat out by a 5-11 rookie. It looked bad when they flushed at midseason 2014 WR Percy Harvin, for whom great treasure was expended. But they made it back to the Super Bowl.
The bosses in 2015 gambled on two positions, and lost. But they seem to view pride as characteristic tied for last with everything else, behind winning.