Seattle Seahawks

Lesson learned: Seahawks won’t change Lynch-based offense for Jimmy Graham

Seattle Seahawks' Jimmy Graham and Russell Wilson walk off the field after the first day of NFL football training camp at the Virginia Mason Athletic Facility in Renton, Wa., Friday, July 31, 2015.
Seattle Seahawks' Jimmy Graham and Russell Wilson walk off the field after the first day of NFL football training camp at the Virginia Mason Athletic Facility in Renton, Wa., Friday, July 31, 2015. seattlepi.com via AP

RENTON Last year brought the disruption, the fights, the angst and, ultimately, the trade of Percy Harvin.

Now comes the benefit from having had him.

The lessons that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and quarterback Russell Wilson learned last season — initially force-feeding Harvin the ball with bubble screens, end-arounds and everything else in the first five games, then after trading him, getting back to basing the offense on Marshawn Lynch’s power running — are what Seattle is applying after this spring’s trade for tight end extraordinaire Jimmy Graham.

“The cool part about Jimmy is we can just plug him in,” play caller Bevell said following Wednesday’s lightning-altered practice No. 11 of training camp. “We really don’t have to do anything special.

“He’s special as a player, being able to fit into the offense. He’s picked it up very well. We can run the exact same routes that we’ve been running and just kind of plug him in.”

So no straying far from Lynch early and often in games to loosen up defenses with constant jump balls to the 6-foot-7, 270-pound Graham, whose 27 receiving scores are tied with Brandon Marshall and Dez Bryant for the most in the league in the last three seasons?

“We’re not going to have to stray very far at all,” Bevell said. “We’ve been able to just plug him in and play.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Carroll was more pointed on what he learned from catering too much to Harvin early last season.

On Seattle’s KJR-AM radio, Carroll said the Seahawks got so into playing with their new (in full health) toy in Harvin that they strayed from their Super Bowl-winning identity from 2013.

“That did happen. He’s such an explosive player, we wanted to see if he could create a problem that would help other aspects of it — and probably to our detriment somewhat,” Carroll told KJR. “We got out of what we were doing.”

Lynch had a mere six carries last September in a broiler at San Diego, when Harvin did score on a 51-yard catch and run. But the Chargers otherwise swarmed Harvin on bubble screens and fly sweeps as if they knew what was coming. Lynch had just 10 rushes in a home game against Dallas, one of two games that Harvin refused to re-enter late after getting pummeled early.

The Seahawks lost both games.

Doug Baldwin also adjusted to unfamiliar ground with Harvin around early last season: outside as a flanker or split end while Harvin got most snaps at the inside, slot position in three wide-receiver sets. That’s where Baldwin had been so effective with the most clutch of his 116 receptions the previous two seasons. Instead, Bevell fed his bubble-screen-palooza of play calls to Harvin from September into October.

The idea was to spread defenses away from Lynch’s inside running. The idea failed. Seattle began the season at 3-3. National sports observers such as those from Sports Illustrated declared the Seahawks the latest in a decade string of defending Super Bowl champions to flop.

Seattle traded Harvin to the New York Jets for a later-round draft choice on Oct. 17 of last year. Two days later, Baldwin tied his season high with seven catches at St. Louis for 123 yards, the second-most of his career. He had six grabs the following week in a win at Carolina.

In the nine games following the trade, Lynch averaged 20 carries. Voila! Seattle went 7-2 to seize the NFC West lead. It was on its way to eight consecutive wins and into another Super Bowl.

“We got right back to (our norm),” Carroll told KJR on Wednesday. “Doug went back to the slot, and we were going to him on third downs and he was making his plays, and we go right back to what we’d been doing. And we were more comfortable. And we were a better team doing it.”

Now the Seahawks are vowing that they’ve learned. Even with Graham, the latest new toy in the offense.

“What’s really been interesting with Jimmy coming in is we’ve tried to not change the offense — for that reason. We don’t want to change the offense,” Carroll said. “But you’ve got to get the ball to him. You can’t miss him out there; he’s such a great target.

“So we have not had to change our offense. We’ve tried to grab onto what he brings that is unique and worth moving towards. And that’s what we are doing.”

Graham is all for merging into the Seahawks’ run-based scheme, which is led by Lynch, the NFL’s leading rusher and touchdown maker since 2011, rather than being so relied upon as he was for Drew Brees in pass-happy New Orleans.

“For me? Less hits. Longer career,” Graham said, smiling. “I know when the ball comes, there’s going to be big moments. And I know when the ball comes, I’m going to have to do something with that ball.

“Sometimes in New Orleans, I’m getting targeted like 14 times in a game, and a lot of those are catch-hits. You know, here, when I look on film and I see these safeties, everyone is so worried about the run that when you are open normally you are one-on-one, and you just have to make a move on one guy and you have all kinds of great routes.

“For me, I don’t see it as an adjustment. I see it as, for me personally, an improvement.”

EXTRA POINTS

Kam Chancellor’s holdout reached its 13th day, with no end in sight. Carroll told KJR of his team leader and star strong safety: “He does have his heels dug in,” but the team loves Chancellor and is active in trying to get him in camp. … DeShawn Shead was back at the primary fill-in SS for Chancellor. Dion Bailey, who was the No. 1 there the previous two days, got some first-team snaps after Shead. … For the first time anyone can remember, a Seahawks out-of-doors practice was cut short about 30 minutes early by repeated lightning strikes across Lake Washington. Just after 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, fans were advised to immediately leave the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. The Seahawks finished the light practice, two days before the preseason opener against Denver, on their indoor field. … Before they did, DE Michael Bennett took a field microphone at the end of the evacuation announcement and told the 2,600 fans that anyone over 6 feet tall was in danger, but “all you small people are safe.” Baldwin led a mini-conga line containing two other teammates in slapping high-fives down the front row of fans disappointed that they wouldn’t get the daily autograph time with the players following practice. A sympathetic Bobby Wagner ran over and signed a few autographs before he joined the rest of his teammates inside.

gregg.bell@thenewstribune.com

@gbellseattle

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