The Seahawks’ most important work this week won’t involve 40-yard dash times, bench presses or cone drills.
It won’t have much to do with 332 prospects participating in one of sports’ more dehumanizing meat-market appraisals of body shape, either.
To Seattle coach and personnel chief Pete Carroll, those tests are just numbers “and all that stuff.”
The workouts on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium will be broadcast live each day by the league’s network. But the real work will go on behind the scenes during player interviews.
And if the Seahawks succeed here this week and in the April draft, it will largely be because of the intel they gather over the next few days.
Seattle and every other NFL team gets up to 60 interviews inside a room at the Crowne Plaza hotel across the street from the stadium. There are also less-structured chats between team personnel and players inside Union Station, Indianapolis’ central train station adjacent to the hotel.
There are also unlimited meetings and chance run-ins inside hallways and corridors with representatives of free agents, in preparation for the free-agency period that begins March 9. Those talks will include agents for some of the Seahawks’ 18 free-agent players.
The interviews are where Seattle’s truest action will happen at the combine. They will be the latest pieces in a process that also includes college all-star game weeks, pro day workouts, chats and ongoing team investigations on college campuses before bringing a select number of prospects to team headquarters for more interviewing.
And that — not drafting the cornerback with the fastest 40 time available, or the running back who generates the biggest buzz in Indianapolis — is how Carroll and general manager John Schneider build the Seahawks’ locker room and overall culture.
“If I’m going to find somebody’s best, I need to get them as close to what their true potential is and connected to who they are, and call on that to be consistent,” Carroll said last month.
“It’s really hard to be something that you’re not, but it’s asked of people a lot. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re trying to realize that these guys have really special, unique qualities about themselves and then try to figure out how to fit it together.”
For Carroll and Schneider, the attitude and makeup of a player they might eventually draft or sign is the key component to the Seahawks’ locker room culture. And that culture has worked. Seattle has reached four consecutive postseasons and two of the past three Super Bowls, winning one for the franchise’s first NFL title.
The Seahawks’ coach and GM learn much about a guy’s fortitude by looking him in the eye during personal interview sessions in Indianapolis. The formal ones at the hotel are limited to 15 minutes each, per league rules.
It was during that meeting and others with Frank Clark this time last year that Carroll and Schneider became convinced they knew enough of Clark’s makeup to make him their top draft choice in 2015.
It’s where they asked about Clark going from being homeless at age 11 to being a star pass rusher at the University of Michigan. It’s how they felt satisfied with the adjudication of Clark getting kicked off the Michigan team late in his final season there in 2014 following an arrest and jailing in his home state of Ohio for assault and domestic violence after an alleged fight with his girlfriend. Those charges were dismissed when Clark acceped a lesser one — persistent disorderly conduct — in a plea bargain.
Some teams dropped Clark from their draft board. Others saw him as fourth- or fifth-round pick.
Seattle made him its first selection last year, in the second round.
Through interviews with Clark and those close to him, Carroll knew of the player’s background of growing up in the rough Baldwin Village area of Los Angeles. Carroll has been on the area’s crime-filled streets often — he coached and recruited at nearby USC, then started his philanthropic “A Better L.A.” organization.
“We are really a relationship-based program,” Carroll said last spring.
Clark played in 15 of Seattle’s regular-season games last regular season and both playoff ones, finishing with a combined four sacks as a situational rush end and staying out of trouble. One of those sacks was of Cam Newton in Seattle’s season-ending loss at Carolina in the divisional playoffs last month.
Clark wouldn’t have been there without the interviews Carroll and Schneider did with him at last year’s combine.
These fact- and character-finding talks go beyond the combine, free agency and the draft.
No one drafted Thomas Rawls last year out of Central Michigan. He missed the team’s Bahamas Bowl game with what the Chippewas announced was an academic issue. In September of 2014, Central Michigan suspended him for two games when he was facing felony charges in a purse-snatching incident inside a Michigan casino.
According to the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun, Rawls eventually entered a guilty plea to a high-court misdemeanor of attempted larceny in a building. He was sentenced to a year of probation, 104 hours of community service, plus fines and restitution costs.
The Seahawks signed Rawls as undrafted free agent. He filled in when Marshawn Lynch was injured and became the first undrafted rookie in league history to have two games with at least 160 yards rushing.
Rawls is expected to replace the now-retired Lynch as Seattle’s lead back for 2016 after he recovers from a broken ankle and torn ligaments.
All because of more interviewing — not the vertical jumps and drills that fans see on TV.
“I think it’s extraordinarily important, because we are what their attitude is and who they are,” Carroll said of the interview process. “So we’ve tried to find guys that have a sense about them that they can overcome whatever the odds are, and that they’re going to hang through anything. And that is demonstrated in the passion that they bring to their pursuits too. It’s exactly what we are looking for.
“We don’t care what their number is in the draft class. We just want to find guys that love playing, and they’ve got something, and they’re not going to be denied.
“That’s really where we’ve tried to build a whole crew around that.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
The Seahawks have the 26th pick in the first round of April’s draft, their highest selection since 2012. Tacoma’s Rob Rang of CBSSports.com and NFLDraftScout.com lists these rising prospects among the 332 players participating in this week’s NFL scouting combine:
Kamalei Correa, OLB/DE, Boise State
Keyarris Garrett, WR, Tulsa
Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor
Joe Schobert, OLB, Wisconsin
Pearce Slater, OT, San Diego State
D.J. White, CB, Georgia Tech
Rang also named Clint Van Horn (OT, Marshall) as a combine snub whose stock is rising.