How Seahawks' Russell Wilson, Shane Waldron plan to avoid 2020 repeat

RENTON, Wash. -- Quarterback Russell Wilson's right hand had barely found the laces on the football when he fired it to tight end Gerald Everett, who was split out wide to the left in a cluster of receivers. Everett caught it, weaved through his blocks and slipped into the end zone for a touchdown.

It was an extreme example, but that play and countless others over the first month of Seattle Seahawks training camp illustrated what will be one of the biggest differences in their offense under first-year coordinator Shane Waldron.

It isn't just that Everett has replaced Greg Olsen as TE1, having followed Waldron to Seattle from the Los Angeles Rams. It's more so how the Seahawks plan to get the ball from Wilson to Everett, Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf & Co.

In a hurry.

"It's really about getting the ball to our guys fast, quick as possible, taking our shots, too," Wilson said. "And also giving the ball to 32 and letting him run is always a good thing."

That's No. 32 as in running back Chris Carson, who will remain a focal point. But even as Waldron's offense maintains the Seahawks' long-standing reliance on their run game, he's installing a mostly new system, much more than Brian Schottenheimer did when he took over for Darrell Bevell in 2018.

It will feature fast tempo, a staple from Rams coach Sean McVay's offense Waldron is bringing to Seattle. And it will place more of a priority on keeping defenses honest with short and intermediate throws, something the Seahawks failed to do during their offensive collapse late last season, leading to another early playoff exit and Schottenheimer's departure.

All that came after a scorching start to the season in which Wilson led the NFL in touchdown passes over the first eight games and Seattle led the league in scoring. Most of that damage was coming on deep throws, which led defenses to adjust by more frequently dropping a second safety out of the box and deep into coverage.

The general feeling around the organization is the Seahawks didn't have a strong enough underneath passing game to take what opponents started giving them. Trying to force deep throws that weren't there instead of quickly getting the ball out of Wilson's hands became problematic against the strong defensive fronts they faced down the stretch, particularly in two matchups against Aaron Donald and the Rams.

"It's 100% related to what happened in the second half of the season," said Jake Heaps, a former NFL quarterback who is now Wilson's personal QB coach as well as a co-host on 710 ESPN Seattle, of the emphasis on quicker throws.

Heaps says that style has never been a focal point of recent Seahawks offenses, which made it difficult to adopt it on the fly. Schottenheimer's M.O. has always been running the ball to set up deep play-action passes. The short, quick stuff isn't really a part of his DNA, Bevell's or Pete Carroll's.

It is with Waldron.

"To me, it's just a part of having a balanced offense," Waldron said. "Which doesn't mean we're conservative and dink and dunk all the time, but when are those right opportunities to take completions, having that completion-making mindset and then moving forward to the next play."

Heaps anticipates more screens as well as more "choice routes" in which a receiver, typically within 5 to 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, has the option to break in, out or sit depending on where the coverage presents an opening.

Shorter routes put a premium on gaining yards after the catch. It's something Everett does well and one of the reasons the Seahawks signed him to a one-year, $6 million deal. They also had that skill in mind when they spent their top pick on speedster D'Wayne Eskridge, who's back after beginning camp on the physically unable to perform list.

"The best way that I can describe it in general football terms is that this is a true West Coast system," Heaps said. "It's not West Coast by terminology; it's West Coast by philosophy, meaning that when it comes to the passing game, that it is about timing and rhythm, it's about getting the ball out to your playmakers so that they're the ones that are creating explosive plays with the ball in their hands."

As opposed to those explosive plays coming via deep throws, which have been Wilson's strength.

Since 2015, the Seahawks have averaged the sixth-most air yards per attempt (8.41), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. During that same stretch -- which includes three seasons apiece under Bevell and Schottenheimer -- they're 22nd in yards after the catch per reception (5.0).

By comparison, the Rams rank 24th in air yards/attempt (7.49) in four seasons under McVay and third in yards after the catch/reception (5.94). Everett ranked third in the latter category among NFL tight ends last season (5.88).

Heaps thinks Waldron's offense will take pressure off Wilson.

"He's not going to have to be the playmaker every single play," Heaps said. "He becomes more of a director of an offense than anything else. That's a perfect position for Russell Wilson to be in with his exceptional ability to make big plays and his exceptional ability to read defenses and get you in the right situations."

Another benefit to an increase in quicker throws: It should ease one of Wilson’s frustrations by reducing the number of times he's hit and sacked. It would need to become even more of an emphasis if Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown misses regular-season games amid his contract dispute.

"It might look different because a lot of teams haven't really seen us go short," Lockett said. "A lot of teams were trying to force us to go short and we didn't and we wanted explosives and stuff like that. But truth be told, the explosives part of it is not going to change. It's just the fact that we're going to learn how to be a lot more balanced to where whatever teams decide to give us, that's what we're going to take."