New coordinator thinks Seattle defense is capable of more

Updated: October 17, 2003, 11:23 AM ET
ESPN

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Ray Rhodes believes his Seattle defenders are off to a solid start, yet capable of playing much, much better.

"I don't think we've really gotten close to playing the way we're capable," Rhodes said Thursday in his first comments to reporters since training camp.

It's a sobering thought because the Seahawks defense is vastly improved after ranking 28th overall and last in the NFL against the run in 2002. After last season, the defensive coaching staff was fired.

It's too early to read much meaning in the statistics but there are improvements. The Seahawks (4-1) are tied for 13th in overall defense, allowing 310 yards per game going into Sunday's contest against the Chicago Bears (1-4).

Seattle ranks ninth against the pass, giving up 201.8 yards through the air, and 17th against the run, allowing 108.2 yards rushing per game. The Seahawks also hung a 38-0 shutout on the Arizona Cardinals.

"That's encouraging, but we have some work ahead of us," Rhodes said. "It all boils down to everybody making sure they take care of their responsibilities. It all boils back to being accountable for your play."

The fiery defensive coach was reunited with Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren over the offseason. They're trying to duplicate the success they enjoyed through much of the 1990s with the Green Bay Packers.

Seattle's defense has taken on a different look this season, playing with an aggression and ferocity that was absent before Rhodes arrived.

"Ray is an intense guy. I know every single guy on the defense respects that," linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski said. "He was an intense player. You respect everything he says, and everyone's bought into it 100 percent."

Seattle's hard-hitting defenders have been a fixture on television highlight shows through the first six weeks of the season. The Seahawks share the NFL lead in turnover margin at plus-10.

"That comes with hustle to the football," Rhodes said. "When everybody's flying to the football and trying to get to the ball, when you run to the football, good things will happen."

There's another side to that approach, though. The Seahawks are seeing plenty of penalties for aggressive play.

Rookie free safety Ken Hamlin, one of the early season stars, was flagged for an out-of-bounds hit on a receiver and a hard shot to quarterback Jeff Garcia in last weekend's 20-19 win over San Francisco.

Tackle Antonio Cochran got another 15-yard penalty for taunting after a tackle.

"I like the emotion but there is a limit. You've got to make sure guys understand there is a limit," Rhodes said. "Guy's are flying around and you can be happy about that, but let's don't make this into too much of a mockery."

Another problem area is third down. The Seahawks rank 31st in the 32-team league, allowing opponents to convert 50 percent of the time.

"We still have a lot of work to do," Rhodes said. "It's a long season. When the season's over with, we'll be where we want to be."

Rhodes likes the play by Hamlin and another rookie, cornerback Marcus Trufant. They were Seattle's top draft picks.

"We talk about young guys, but they know they're not young guys," Rhodes said. "They know when they line up out there that they are accountable. It doesn't matter if it's your first year or your 99th year."

Rhodes was asked about veteran linebacker Chad Brown, tackle John Randle and cornerback Willie Williams, and praised each. And he said veteran cornerback Shawn Springs, coming back from a broken shoulder blade, remains a starter.

"When Shawn was injured, he was a starter on this football team. He is a starter on this football team and I think everybody should know that," said Rhodes, who added: "There will be playing time for everybody."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index