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Saturday, November 30, 2013
Time for Pete Carroll to take hard line

By Ashley Fox

Ultimately, this falls on Pete Carroll.

The four-game suspension of cornerback Walter Thurmond and the possible yearlong suspension of cornerback Brandon Browner mean the Seattle Seahawks now have had six players since 2011 suspended for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Some suspensions followed positive tests for performance enhancing drugs. Some followed positive tests of other banned substances. Browner is appealing his suspension, which follows the four-game suspension he served last season. A seventh player, the wickedly talented cornerback Richard Sherman, had his four-game suspension last season overturned.

Pete Carroll
Pete Carroll is considered a players' coach, but that doesn't mean he can't demand accountability from his team.
Even so, that's a lot of drug suspensions.

Carroll's reaction to it on Tuesday: Stuff happens.

"We're very disappointed those guys will not be able to play with us," Carroll said. "It's kind of how it goes at times. I don't know that we can expect to be perfect. We'd like to be, but that isn't the case. You want guys to be on point, but sometimes you're going to be disappointed. It's not about what pops up, it's about how you deal with it and overcome it."

Or how about how you prevent it from happening in the first place?

Something is amiss in Seattle, and Carroll needs to be more than just disappointed that he's losing two contributors to his second-ranked defense. The Seahawks are the best team in football. At 10-1, they have the best record in the league. They have the ultimate home-field advantage playing at CenturyLink Field, where they haven't lost a game in 13 tries since Russell Wilson became the quarterback at the start of last season.

Seattle probably will be playing for home-field advantage Monday night when it hosts the equally formidable New Orleans Saints. Win, and the Seahawks will be on target to host throughout the playoffs, which would give them the easiest path to the winter classic that will be Super Bowl XLVIII in North Jersey.

But to do it, Seattle will have to face Drew Brees and his precise passing attack without Thurmond opposite Sherman. Browner, who has appealed his suspension, was nursing a groin injury and would not have played anyway. Thurmond was his replacement. Byron Maxwell, a sixth-round pick of the Seahawks in 2011 out of Clemson, will make his first career start against the Saints.

Seattle is ridiculously deep at cornerback and thus should be able to withstand the loss of Thurmond and Browner, but that should not dilute the issue. Carroll needs to do something to ensure that his message of personal accountability and always protecting the team gets through. Clearly, it hasn't. Otherwise Thurmond and Browner would have realized the opportunity the Seahawks have to get to and win the Super Bowl. Those opportunities don't come around every day.

Instead of voicing his disappointment, Carroll should have been enraged. Instead of preaching the value of allowing second chances and supporting players when they make mistakes, he should have issued a zero-tolerance policy. He should have put everyone on blast: players, trainers, equipment guys, assistants or anyone else who would know, or should know, what substances players are putting in their bodies.

It's one thing to rely on team leaders to police the locker room. It was beneficial to have veterans like fullback Michael Robinson demand guys stop making these mistakes, as he did after second-year linebacker Bruce Irvin was popped with a four-game suspension in May for using performance-enhancing drugs. It was worthwhile for veteran wide receiver Golden Tate to go on the radio in Seattle as he did Tuesday and call Thurmond and Browner "selfish."

But the message needs to come from the head coach. He is ultimately accountable, just as Joe Philbin must be held accountable for the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin imbroglio, just as Sean Payton was held accountable for the New Orleans bounty program and just as Bill Belichick was held accountable for Spygate.

We'll always look to give guys a second chance around here," Carroll told the media Tuesday. "The fact that the league has adjusted the rules allowing a guy who is suspended under these circumstances to be with us, we're going to take care of them and look after them until we get them back.

Disappointed is the best way to say it. We try to coach them and guide them and mentor them in every way we can. When guys have an issue, we are going to take responsibility for helping them. … I've always been hopeful in finding the best in them. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn't."

Carroll is the ultimate players' coach. He is energetic and supportive and fun. He has a team full of young guys who trust in their abilities, play with moxie and have found the middle ground between confidence and arrogance. In just his fourth season, Carroll has turned the Seahawks into a legitimate, formidable Super Bowl contender.

But given the repeated drug suspensions that have affected his team in the past three years, Carroll must do more. He must take a hard-line approach. He needs every player to be all-in, and clearly all aren't.