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In New England, Tebucky Jones became a symbol of what went wrong in the Patriots’ Pete Carroll era. Jones had originally come to Syracuse to play running back and converted to safety, but Carroll wanted to turn him into a cornerback when he drafted him in the first round in 1998. While Carroll admitted that the pick was “a little bit of a risk,” he lauded Jones’ traits. “Jones is a rare find, a guy who can run as fast as he can who’s as long and tall as he is. His athletic ability and competitiveness are so unique.”

Tebucky Jones posted a 9.91 RAS (out of 10) as a draft prospect.

The Jones-at-corner experiment did not pan out, as he only started two games in Carroll’s tenure, finishing with two pass breakups and no interceptions. His failure symbolized the organizational downturn that occurred after the 1996 season, Bill Parcells’ final year, during which the Patriots went 11-5 and reached the Super Bowl. The team’s win total declined each season under Carroll, and 1999’s 8-8 finish prompted Carroll’s firing. Local media described Jones, perhaps unfairly, as “one of the reasons for the downfall of the Pete Carroll-[personnel head]Bobby Grier regime.” 

New Patriots head coach Bill Belichick moved Jones back to his college position of safety, where his size, athleticism, and physicality played up. He became a starter on the Super-Bowl-XXXVI-winning team, and played well enough that the Patriots were able to trade him for a third-round pick two years later. Carroll correctly identified Jones as an NFL talent, but the experiment at “press corner” failed.

In many ways, however, Jones’ selection presaged Carroll’s highly-successful Seattle Seahawks run from 2012 to 2016, when the team went 56-23-1, won a Super Bowl and another conference championship, and finished with the number one scoring defense in four consecutive years. The Seattle defense was built on many of the principles that explained the Jones pick: size, length, and physicality in the secondary, outstanding physical attributes, and physical and mental toughness.

In these respects, Jones’ background parallels that of three-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman, like Jones, arrived at college as an offensive player, though a wide receiver rather than a running back. Sherman had similar outstanding length at 6’3” with 32” arms. Both excelled at the vertical jump, a drill that measures explosiveness. 

The biggest difference between them coming out was their draft position. Jones arrived as a first-round pick with first-round pick expectations that he failed to meet. As a fifth-round pick, Sherman ranks as one of the draft’s all-time steals. 

Carroll and general manager John Schneider built the “Legion of Boom” defense without expending a lot of draft capital. From 2010 through 2018, they only used two first-round picks on defense, compared to four on offense, plus two more dealt away for offensive veterans. The “Legion of Boom” was built on later picks: Kam Chancellor in the fifth in 2010, Sherman in the fifth and Byron Maxwell in the sixth in 2011, and Jeremy Lane in the sixth in 2012. Brandon Browner, another key figure in the defense, signed for no guaranteed money out of the Canadian Football League. Only free safety Earl Thomas, the 14th overall selection in 2010, was picked high.

The Seahawks built their defense inexpensively because they knew exactly what they needed to run their scheme and because what they were looking for was different from what most teams sought. While many corners are smaller players with top change-of-direction skills, the Seahawks sought long, physical corners and didn’t need the same movement abilities. Their press Cover 3 scheme demanded disruptive violence at the line of scrimmage but provided ample help for in-breaking routes over the middle of the field:


Seattle's Cover 3. The outside corner has help from the free safety on post routes and from the linebackers on shallow ones.

In the base Cover 3 scheme, the outside cornerbacks jam the receiver initially to disrupt his get-off—and the play’s timing. After that, corners carry vertical routes (fades, comebacks, outs) along the sideline. They have help from linebackers on short in-breaking routes, and help from the free safety on deep posts. They need length, physicality, and technique to press, and enough speed to stay vertical, but they don’t need as much agility and reaction as in a man-to-man-heavy scheme. To some teams, the movement abilities of a player like Sherman or Browner would be a liability in coverage. But Carroll saw the length, toughness, savvy, and ball skills to thrive in his system—just as he did with Tebucky Jones more than a decade earlier.

“To be successful on defense, you need to develop a philosophy. If you don’t have a clear view of your philosophy, you will be floundering all over the place. If you win, it will be pure luck.” - Carroll

In addition to long cornerbacks, the Seahawks innovated in their usage of Combine testing data to identify top athletes, particularly in the later rounds. Strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlile, who worked on Carroll’s staff from 2001 to 2019, helped work with Nike to develop the SPARQ (Speed Power Agility Reaction Quickness) rating, developing a composite number incorporating weight, 40-yard dash time, 20-yard shuttle, kneeling powerball toss, and vertical jump.

The annual Scouting Combine tests draftees in all these areas except the powerball toss, and the Seahawks have shown a pattern of selecting players who excel in these drills. Linebackers Bobby Wagner and Malcolm Smith, tight end Luke Willson, running back Christine Michael, cornerback Jeremy Lane, and defensive end Greg Scruggs rank among the SPARQ standouts Seattle drafted. Wagner proved to be a star, Smith won MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII, and Willson and Lane proved to be useful contributors.

The “Legion of Boom” secondary got most of the headlines, but the defensive front boasted plenty of quality pieces as well. Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant, two players drafted under prior Seattle regimes, stuffed the run and soaked up blocks up front. The Seahawks signed edge rusher Cliff Avril and drafted Bruce Irvin to add some pass rushing juice. Michael Bennett, signed relatively inexpensively from Tampa Bay, proved to be the biggest star on the defensive line, making three Pro Bowls as a blocker’s nightmare who could rush from the inside or outside. Carroll and general manager John Schneider built an all-time great defense, one with stars at every level and virtually no holes.

The Seahawks rode that suffocating defense to a Super Bowl victory following the 2013 season; they allowed 2.79 fewer Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt than the average defense, a figure which ranked second only to the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers since 1990. They continued with another excellent defense in 2014, but fell just short in Super Bowl XLIX. The following two seasons saw a slight decline in win totals (10 each year) but the defense remained outstanding. They finished with the #1 scoring defense in 2015 for the fourth season in a row, a remarkable run of consistency, and ranked third in 2016.

That was basically the end of the run, however. The defense has had a few solid seasons since, but none that have even ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense, and twice (including 2022) they’ve finished 20th or worse. Still, a five-year run of excellent defense is an eternity by modern NFL standards (see Chapter 8).

It’s not really fair to ask why Seattle never became a dynasty; while a star quarterback can help sustain offensive success amid fluctuating and changing supporting casts, no individual makes such a large impact on the defensive side. Defensive success requires contributions from all 11 on the field, as offensive schemers will attack weak links in the chain. And with defensive careers generally shorter than those of offensive linemen and much shorter than quarterbacks’, most great defenses don’t have a long shelf life. 

With this caveat, it’s still worth looking at the Seahawks-as-dynasty-that-kinda-sorta-wasn’t. The team made a few personnel missteps. While Percy Harvin helped key the Super Bowl victory with an electrifying kickoff return, trading a first-round pick for him proved a disaster. Harvin missed most of the 2013 season with a hip injury, and clashes in the locker room prompted the team to dump him the next season for a sixth-round pick. Ultimately the Harvin experience cost Seattle a first-round pick, a third-round pick, and nearly $19M. A 2015 trade for tight end Jimmy Graham worked out better, as Graham made two Pro Bowls, but he never reached the heights he had with the New Orleans Saints. That deal also cost Seattle a first-round pick, plus starting center Max Unger, and the Seahawks struggled with their offensive line for the remainder of quarterback Russell Wilson’s tenure.

Personnel moves weren’t the only issue. Seattle’s competitive edges vanished over time. Defensive staff Gus Bradley, Dan Quinn, Kris Richard, Robert Saleh, and Todd Wash ultimately took positions elsewhere, bringing Seattle’s scheme and personnel philosophies with them. The kind of players Carroll and Schneider acquired for a song in their early days with the team suddenly weren’t undervalued assets anymore—many teams sought long corners, physical safeties, and athletic freaks.

When Carroll and Schneider arrived in Seattle, they brought a fresh perspective and a scheme few teams were running. Their uniqueness led them to competitive edges that other teams couldn’t find. But when brain drain and copycats set in, they didn’t evolve quickly enough to maintain their advantage. Carroll’s still a Hall of Fame coach, and the Seahawks have remained competitive, with only one losing season since their Legion-of-Boom heyday, but their story demonstrates that uniqueness is a moving target, and competitive edges are fleeting.

Borges, Ron, “Multiple changes in the division”, Boston Globe, April 20, 1998
Borges, Ron, “It could have been a Holliday celebration,” Boston Globe, April 19, 1998
Brown, Chris, The Art of Smart Football, p. 2