Mora: New Coach, New Camps

They say that over time, teams take on the personalities of their coaches. The Seahawks under Mike Holmgren were a series of cerebral, secretly tough, offensive-minded groups alternating between sublime production and ridiculous dry spells.

Under new head coach Jim Mora, the famed climber of Issaquah's Tiger Mountain, the prominent characteristic seems to be that this Seahawks team will be a "lean, mean, fightin' machine!" Mora is determined to have a team that will be able to out-play opponents in the fourth quarter.

"Well, we want to be a fit and conditioned football team -- we feel that this can be a winning edge," Mora told Brock Huard, Mike Salk and Dave Wyman on ESPN Radio during the first day of Seattle's most recent minicamp. "Running after practice, as you mentioned, which is something that not a lot of NFL teams do. I don't know why -- and I had never done it until this year -- but we just wanted to make a few changes that could help us mentally and physically. There's a mental aspect to that, as well. Convincing guys that they're in better shape than their opponent, that they can outwork their opponent, that was a big thing for us. To do maybe a bit more than they ever have before in their previous years."

Still, Mora's aware of the balance between conditioned and overworked. That's especially important to a Seahawks team with many veterans returning from a 2008 season with unbelievable bad injury luck. According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks had more Adjusted Games Lost to their starters in 2008 than all but three teams. That means that Seattle's almost certain to enjoy a nice progression back to the average, but knowing when to give the vets a breather has a lot to do with a return to health.

It's interesting, because it's a fine line you're walking," Mora told Wyman, when asked how he handles contact in minicamps. "Number 1, you want to get to the regular season as healthy as you can. At the same time, you've got to have contact. You can't put these guys on the field to start the regular season without contact. You've just got to gauge where your team is at on a daily basis. We'll have long, physical, tough, grinding practices, and we'll follow that up with practices where the players get a chance to recover. Like I said, the goal is to find the right mix, and it changes on a daily basis. We'll definitely be physical, and we'll definitely push them, but there's also an eye on recovery, and getting back on the field to have another productive practice session."

Mora understands that excellence is as much mental and emotional as it is physical, which is why he appreciated the lessons learned from the team's recent trip to Ft. Lewis to interface with the soldiers there. Various Seahawks ran an obstacle course, and Mora realized some new things about leadership. How does a coach become, in the "Dog Whisperer" parlance, a pack leader?

"It's a tough question … how long do you have (laughs)? I mean, I do speeches on this stuff! I'll tell you what was fun was going down to Ft. Lewis the other day and watching some of those guys. Because they're leading men and women into combat, where lives are on the line. For us as a team to see how they galvanize their troops was eye-opening. I'm hopefully going to spend time with some of the men I met down there who had leadership roles, and pick their brains. You know, 'How do you motivate? How do you get these guys together in these extreme environments?' We think this is an extreme environment. But this not Afghanistan, this is not Iraq. Our lives are not on the line, so I think it's beneficial to talk to those types of people."

Huard asked Mora about the switch from position coach to head man, which Mora has made twice in his career. Is it a big transition? "It is, absolutely," Mora said. "It's like going from position coach to coordinator, where you're dealing with five to 12 players as a position coach, then as a coordinator, the defensive or offensive side of the ball. When you're the head coach, it's a team, and you're bringing everybody together, and creating the culture and the mindset and the environment that you believe will help your team win on Sunday."

Huard also asked Mora how training camp will be different this year. "There are subtle differences. Mike (Holmgren) had tremendous success, as we all know -- the guy's going to the Hall of Fame. So before you change anything, you take a long, hard look at it. But the league in general is changing the way training camps operate. And that's simply because the offseason has become so all-encompassing with these players. We've had 19 practices already. So, we'll go to a schedule where you practice in the mornings, and then practice late in the evenings -- 6:30 or 6:45. And then, you come back the next morning, have a lifting session and a meeting session, and practice in the afternoon.

"So, we go two-one-two-one, and on the morning practices, it's 8:30 in the morning, and late in the evening. We're trying to maximize recovery time. The goal is to have two meals and a meeting between each practice. We feel that the post-practice meal is important to replenish, and the pre-practice meal for energy, and we like to have the meeting in the middle so we feel that we've always had a chance to watch film before going back out on the field again.

"I don't think it's league mandate, it's just people recognizing that the body can only be pushed so far. There are only so many hits you have in you. Like I said, the goal is to start the season healthy. (The training room is) not fun for those guys, and we've taken a somewhat conservative approach this offseason in that … rather than push those guys to get back on the field before they're ready or when they're on the verge of being ready, we want to make sure they're healed. And as we go through training camp, you'll see some of these older guys who have had injury histories -- we'll take care of them a little bit. It's just trying to find the right groove. It's always elusive, but you're always searching for it."

The Seahawks' current minicamp runs through Friday, and training camp begins in early August. Stay tuned to NorthwestFootball.net throughout the year for news and analysis.

Doug Farrar is the Publisher of NorthwestFootball.net. He also writes for Football Outsiders, the Washington Post, ESPN.com, and the Seattle Times. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.


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