Curry a big part of Seahawks' puzzle
Overwhelmed by demands as a rookie, LB hopes new system, roles help him flourish
RENTON, Wash. -- Stephen Strasburg's domination of the Pittsburgh Pirates in his major league debut Tuesday night illustrates how -- in some sports -- one player can make a difference.
Give Strasburg a baseball every five days and the Washington Nationals, who haven't had a winning season since 2003, are suddenly contenders. If LeBron James were to join the New York Knicks, that franchise might improve by 20 games.
It's not that simple in the NFL.
Pro football is a team game. While a great quarterback makes more of a difference than any other position on a football team, the surrounding parts have to be good enough for the team to win. That's why the Detroit Lions, with the addition of Matthew Stafford, can go 2-14, while the New York Jets, after welcoming aboard Mark Sanchez, can end up in the AFC title game.
For years, the Seahawks were the dominant team in an easily winnable NFC West. But age and attrition caught up to them. The Seahawks kept drafting smaller defenders to augment their Cover 2 defense during their playoff runs and neglected their offense. Left tackle Walter Jones was injury prone and unreliable. The offensive line never successfully replaced guard Steve Hutchinson, who defected to the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent. The Seahawks fell.
Enter Curry, the fourth pick in the 2009 draft. The former Wake Forest star was arguably the best pure player in that draft. He's 6-foot-2, weighs 255 pounds and can do just about everything, including rushing the passer.
In a league in which linebackers usually win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, Curry was the best linebacker in the draft and potentially the most likely candidate for that award.
His rookie season didn't come close to that.
"I didn't know what I was doing exactly," Curry said. "You do things in training camp but when you get into the regular season, you feel as though you don't have any techniques to get the job done."
Curry was lost in a monsoon of expectation and a downpour of misfortune. He was supposed to complete what was billed as the best linebacking corps in football. After the season opener, outside linebacker Leroy Hill was lost for two months because of injury. Three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu's season was over after six weeks because of injury.
Suddenly, the prized rookie was asked to be a leader before he was ready on a defense that had too many holes.
"I was the first-rounder; I was supposed to be the so-called star," Curry said. "My biggest problem was that I got flustered. I was flooded with a lot of information [and] I tried so hard to do everything."
As a result, by trying to do too much, little got done. Curry ended up with 61 tackles and two sacks in 14 games, and the Seahawks went 5-11. It was a lost season for all involved, including first-year coach Jim Mora, who was replaced by Pete Carroll.
The story has been mostly the same for so many of the defensive players selected in the top five. Bad teams get the choice picks in the draft, but none of those teams are one player away from winning.Five of the past seven Defensive Rookie of the Year winners came from teams that won nine or more games. The last time an Offensive Rookie of the Year came from a losing team was in 2003, when Anquan Boldin caught 101 passes for the 4-12 Arizona Cardinals.
The Curry story appears to be much more positive this season. Expectations for the Seahawks may not be great, but Curry is entering the season on a more stable front. Carroll has plenty of great plans for Curry and the defensive scheme could allow him to be the star he was projected to be.
First and foremost, Curry's head isn't spinning like it was last season. Each day in offseason workouts, Curry's role is becoming defined. Though he's primarily a strongside linebacker, Curry might be asked to move from side to side if needed. With an uncertain future for Hill, who has been away from the team because of a domestic dispute, Curry may need to be flexible, and more will be asked of him as a pass-rusher."The biggest mistake I made last year was chasing the big play instead of making the big play," Curry said.
Carroll and his staff have settled Curry into techniques that should allow him to make big plays.
The most interesting change involves the placement of his hands. Last season, Curry rushed the quarterback from his linebacker position. This spring, Curry has been asked to try a three-point stance on some plays as a pass-rushing defensive end. He loves it.
"Everything I did in the past has been from a two-point stance," Curry said. "Coach Carroll wanted to challenge me and he did that by trying me in some three-point stances. I found out I can rush better from a three-point stance than a two-point stance. It's like that rattlesnake. In the three-point stance, the snake is curled up and if you blink, you're bit."
Curry will rush the quarterback as a linebacker in some 3-4 looks. He'll put his hand down and rush the quarterback in some passing situations. He'll be given the chance to make big plays.
While he can be a difference-maker, the key to any season is improving the surrounding cast. Curry and most players on losing teams learn they can't do it alone.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
MORE NFL HEADLINES
- Chiefs' Smith (spleen) out against Chargers
- Shaw gets start for Browns; Hoyer likely out
- Sources: Stanton has scope; out indefinitely
- Lynch fined $11K by NFL for obscene move