Loss to Rams, No. 26 ranking on defense stab Rhodes’ pride

Published: August 1st, 2005 12:01 AM

CHENEY – Probably unconsciously, when Ray Rhodes uttered the word “Rams,” he touched his flank in the general area of his spleen. “I have a knife in my side because they gutted me pretty good last year,” the Seahawks defensive coordinator said after Sunday afternoon’s training camp practice.

Rhodes doesn’t often share his thoughts with the media, but when he does, he gets to the point directly and arrives there forcefully, with little chance of misinterpretation.

And after a few minutes listening to Rhodes’ concepts of defense and aggressiveness and accountability, even a civilian might feel a strange compulsion to go tackle somebody.

When asked what his defense has to accomplish this season, he promptly flashed back to the lessons of 2004, causing him to spit out the word “Rams” as if it were a bitter pill.

Some of the key messages of 2005, then, lie in the failures of 2004.

Rhodes’ defense opened last season as if it were ready to become one of the NFL’s most effective units.

But with a 17-point fourth-quarter lead over the rival Rams, some members of the Hawks’ defense started to celebrate on the field, and visibly lost focus.

St. Louis rallied and won that game. Rhodes can still feel the pain, and it’s been pushing him for months.

“When it came down to us stopping them, we didn’t get it done,” Rhodes said. “We have to learn that you have to take pride in every snap, and that you can’t let go of them and let something like that ever happen again.”

Key injuries and faltering performances greased the Seahawks’ slide to 26th in the NFL defensive rankings after the Rams initiated the decline.

Rhodes sought answers as if on a personal crusade. He had not, after all, lasted three decades in the NFL by tolerating such indignities.

So he and his staff spent this offseason sequestered in the film room, looking for … what?

“You go back and first you do some soul searching,” Rhodes said. “You look at every snap you played and try to find what you can do better. Then we looked at every team that had a winning record, finishing up with the Super Bowl. Then you look at teams ranked in the top five or 10 and you ask: ‘What are they doing that we’re not doing? What works for them that doesn’t work for us?’ We watched film after film after film after film.”

In the process, Rhodes had to salve wounds to areas other than his side: His pride, specifically.

“I have always prided myself on establishing defenses that are aggressive and get after people,” he said, “and when that doesn’t happen, you get disappointed.”

Rhodes may use the word “pride” a dozen times in a span of a few minutes. He applies it to himself, and to the players, as if it is the prime connective tissue that bonds a winning team.

“Every player has to be committed to playing,” he said. “They’ve all worked all their lives to get here, so the pride has to be there. But sometimes the motivation isn’t there. And we have to find whatever buttons they have and make sure we push them. We have to remind them of that on a daily basis.”

Over the years, Rhodes has been considered laconic, or, at worst, irascible. But near the end of a convivial interview, he was questioned whether he had mellowed.

“No, I’m not a kinder, gentler guy; I’m still grumpy as hell and I do get (angry). I’m like anybody else who is a competitor,” he said. “But I believe that the sooner we get these guys playing to the level they can play to, we’re going to be a better football team. And that will make everybody happier.

“Personally, I feel I owe it to these guys to help get us there; we have to do whatever it takes. But we have to do it together, we all have to make the same commitment to make it work.”

After 33 years in the NFL, Rhodes claims to be stoked by the same level of passion for the game. And this time of the year energizes him with its challenges and potential for improvement and growth.

As his extensive film studies through the winter and spring reminded him: “I’m still learning, and I’m always going to be studying. When I get to the point where I think I’ve got all the answers, I better haul my ass out of the business.”

But that shouldn’t happen soon. He has a pain in his side he needs to correct.

And, more importantly to Rhodes, there’s a great deal of pride at stake