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Larry Stone: Perhaps NFL targeting Seahawks for just being Seahawks

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, left, gesturing to safety Earl Thomas, is a high-energy no-quit preacher with a target on his back. (Associated Press)
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, left, gesturing to safety Earl Thomas, is a high-energy no-quit preacher with a target on his back. (Associated Press)

The Seahawks knew they were going to be “the hunted” this year.

That’s what happens when you win the Super Bowl, especially in as flamboyant a fashion as they did in February. The Hawks are fully expecting all the teams on their schedule, and all those beyond, to have an adrenaline upgrade the week of the Seattle game.

Their reaction, articulated throughout training camp? Bring it on.

What the Seahawks might not have anticipated, however, is that the fallout from their success would be so pervasive. The paranoid might even say the entire league is out to get them.

First, the NFL announced a newfound emphasis on calling penalties for illegal contact and defensive holding, widely referred to as “The Legion of Boom Rule.”

And now the Seahawks have been nailed by the league for violating the noncontact rules in the offseason, apparently for a particularly spirited minicamp practice in June. They’ve been docked two days of mandatory veterans minicamp in 2015 and fined a reported $300,000 – or more – with at least $100,000 of the fine said to be directed at coach Pete Carroll.

It sure seems like the NFL is targeting the Seahawks – and in the case of the defensive rules, there is little question that Seattle’s aggressive style of play is what prompted the crackdown.

Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall told the NBC affiliate in D.C. recently that there were “no ifs, ands or buts” that was the case, adding, “Seahawks got their ring, they did it their way … now we have to pay the consequences.” And Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a radio interview with 105.3 FM The Fan in Dallas that “it came about from Seattle.”

That’s an “if you can’t beat them, neuter them” strategy the Seahawks are rightly viewing as a sign of respect. But the minicamp penalty seems to me less a case of the NFL sticking it to the Seahawks than the inevitable byproduct of the Seahawks’ core principle under Carroll: Always compete.

When that philosophy is drilled home as rabidly as it has been under Carroll, it’s hard to turn it off, even during a non-pad workout. The offending practice seems to be the one in which Richard Sherman and Phil Bates got in a scuffle, right after Earl Thomas and Bryan Walters went down to the ground while grappling on coverage earlier in the practice.

Admit it, you loved to read about the Seahawks players scuffling during a workout. It showed that the intensity level was still sky-high after winning the Super Bowl. But coverage of the incident no doubt also was a red flag to the league, which is – rightly – vigilant about enforcing the no-contact rules, at the behest of the union, which has adapted a zero-tolerance policy against violations.

This is a good thing, mind you. As we learn more about head injuries, and see the devastating toll that playing in the NFL takes on bodies, anything that protects the players is welcome. There was a time when coaches tended to overlook the no-contact rules, and the NFL more or less gave tacit approval. No longer.

Granted, it can be a very fine line, trying to hold true to Carroll’s mantra, and embracing their own penchant toward physical play, while also adhering to the no-contact mandate. And it’s one the Seahawks say they’ve worked hard to stay on the right side of, since they were hit with a similar penalty in June 2012.

Carroll said Wednesday the league observed their practices a year ago and told them everything was fine.

He added, “We tried to do things better than last year, with the same tone and the same thought. They decided otherwise when they looked at the film or something.

“We’re always competing here. I mean, that’s how we do this. We’re trying to do things exactly right. We’re not trying to push it over the top … I’m really disappointed. I don’t want to be doing things wrong. I want to do things right. I like to show exactly how to do it. When you’re competing like we do, we are trying to do things the best you can possibly do it. Unfortunately, this decision makes it look otherwise.”

It also could make it look like the league is waiting to pounce when Seattle steps out of line. Carroll doesn’t see it that way, however.

“I don’t feel like the victim,’’ he said. “I don’t at all. I think we practice in the manner that draws attention. We have for a long time.”

It’s the Seahawks’ intense practices that beget their success on the field. And it’s Seattle’s success on the field that has put a spotlight on their franchise – and a target on their back.

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