RENTON, Wash. – High expectations come with high draft picks, especially when you’re the highest-picked player at your position in nearly a decade.
That’s what happened to Wake Forest outside linebacker Aaron Curry when the Seattle Seahawks selected him fourth overall in the 2009 draft.
Not since Penn State’s LaVar Arrington was taken second overall by the Washington Redskins in 2000 had a college linebacker of any stripe been regarded so highly. Curry had the pedigree, winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker after the 2008 season.
Even at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, Curry has shown the type of track speed you’d expect from tight ends and safeties, and because of that, the Seahawks had trouble narrowing down where they wanted to use him. He played fairly well in his rookie season as a linebacker/pass-rusher hybrid, but that role took him away from his strengths, and injuries derailed his progress.
“In my first year, I had a completely different responsibility – I did more pass-rushing than I ever did in college,” Curry said.
When Pete Carroll replaced Jim Mora as the Seahawks’ head coach before the 2010 season, one of the first things he did was to look at film of Curry to see where he’d best fit Carroll’s multiple defensive schemes. Carroll, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. decided to move Curry back to more of a dedicated outside linebacker role, but there were still other responsibilities that occasionally caused Curry to struggle.
At times, Curry’s physical gifts seemed to get in the way. His speed became a liability as he overran plays and his agility didn’t serve him as well as it should have in pass coverage, because he was still adjusting to his roles in the NFL.
Carroll says that now, in Curry’s third season, player and team finally seem to be on the same page.
“Aaron, he’s deep into what we’re doing,” Carroll said. “We know how to utilize him now. Last year, we tried to figure out how much we should move him around in pass rush situations.
“He’s really an outside linebacker and he does a really good job of doing that. He’s playing first-team in the nickel package right now, and that’s something he didn’t do before.”
In Seattle’s preseason opening game, a 24-17 win over the San Diego Chargers on Thursday, Curry showed both sides of the picture to date. He amassed two tackles in limited duty, but safety Kam Chancellor had to clean up one early rushing play, because while Curry stood up running back Mike Tolbert, he didn’t wrap up and complete the stop.
Norton, who played 13 years in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, went to three Pro Bowls as a linebacker. He immediately saw that Curry had all the gifts any linebacker could want; the key was channeling all that athleticism. That was what he tried to impart the first time he met Curry.
“Just letting him know that as good as he is – he’s got speed, he’s got power, he’s got instincts, and he’s got a great attitude – that’s a great foundation to be a really good player,” Norton said. “He just needs to understand what he has and be confident in it, and understand what he does best.
“He rushes really well; he’s very fast and powerful. So, do those things really well, and just exploit them.”
No matter where his charges play, Norton believes, the most important thing is to optimize the situation for the player’s strengths.
“You have to find out your role, and get a good feeling for the defense,” he said. “You have to get everybody connected and see where you fit. And then, you have to find a way to get your game to another level. To understand that you’re fast and strong and powerful, and how can you impose your will and help this defense the best you can? Aaron’s in that process now, and the sky’s the limit.”