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Originally published Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 8:02 PM

Danny O'Neil

Pete Carroll faces the football challenge of his lifetime

The defeat left coach Pete Carroll at a loss. "I'm not used to fighting out of situations like this," he said Sunday. "I don't remember the...

Seattle Times NFL reporter

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RENTON — The defeat left coach Pete Carroll at a loss.

"I'm not used to fighting out of situations like this," he said Sunday. "I don't remember the old days. I don't remember them anymore."

Carroll has never had a losing record after seven games as an NFL head coach. No team of his has been 2-5 since 2001, his first season at USC. And this time there's no Las Vegas Bowl to shoot for.

As Carroll gave his status report after Sunday's game, he offered a most comprehensive summary on Seattle's present difficulties (which are significant), his optimism for the team's future (which is unrelenting) and a timeline for improvement (totally uncertain).

"I can only think of what we can become," he continued. "I look at our guys and I see a much better group than how we're performing right now. I'm not going to step back until we see it. It's going to take us a little while."

You could treat it as a confession, the coach who thought he'd discovered a magic bullet in nine seasons at USC realizing that it wasn't going to be so easy to win forever in the NFL.

It would be easy, but it would not be accurate. Carroll is not some college Pollyanna. He coached in the NFL for 15 years before he went to USC. He knows all about the competitive balance of this league and the difficulty of matriculating from a college program stocked with talent to a pro team with an aging roster in a league that actively legislates toward parity.

"The challenge of a lifetime," Carroll said when he took the Seahawks job.

Now, he's up to his neck in that challenge, and before Seattle begins preparing for its game in Dallas on Sunday, it's worth pausing to take an inventory of where things stand.

The Seahawks are four games behind division-leading San Francisco. This isn't unprecedented for the franchise. Carroll is the third different Seahawks coach in four seasons to lose five of the first seven games in a season.

It also isn't entirely unexpected. Anyone who thought last year's playoff victory over the Saints was a launching pad wasn't paying attention when the Seahawks continued stripping their roster down to the studs in this abbreviated offseason.

But this is a different situation than Seattle was in back in 2008 and 2009. The Seahawks were a veteran team then, built for the present and not the future. They were supposed to contend.

The Seahawks are one of the youngest teams in the league, so it's reasonable to expect this team to get better. If Seattle is in fact on the right track, its results should improve over the course of this season especially with a schedule in which four of the final six games are at home.

The question is how long that improvement will take, and the biggest barometer for that will be the offensive line.

It's one of the youngest units on the team with two rookies, a second-year tackle in Russell Okung and third-year center in Max Unger. It's considered one of the most talented, with three former first-round picks. And it's also one of the rawest units. After seven games, the Seahawks have allowed the most sacks in the league and gained the second-fewest rushing yards.

Carroll has got the goods, he says, that this line is going to become a strength of this team. It's just a matter of the time they didn't have this offseason and the time they're getting to develop now.

"These guys are going to get it done," Carroll said.

Carroll is not used to this, though. He said so himself after Sunday's game, and now we're going to see the depth of his coaching arsenal because there's a lot of season left and a ton of improvement his team must make without the carrot of a potential playoff berth to chase.

So what happens next?

"We just have to hang," Carroll said, "because this is a long season. We have a lot of weeks, we have a lot of games to win out here. I can see it."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

About Danny O'Neil

Danny O'Neil will comment on issues, events and personalities in the NFL. His column will appear on Sundays during the regular season. He also posts most days on the Seahawks Blog.
doneil@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2364

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