Photo Courtesy: 12thmanrising.com
By Andy / PNW Sports Fans
As training camp gets underway I’ve decided to attempt to fill the time by breaking down each position group while focusing on key contributors, battles for snaps and other intriguing story lines. Today I’m taking a look at possibly the most diverse cast of characters on the roster both in personality and play. The defensive backs. Or as they’re famously referred to, the Legion of Boom. Here goes.
Who Are They?
Richard Sherman: I’m hesitant to “open my mouth about the best.” But how can I not with the way 25 has played throughout his career? Simply put, Sherm is the most dominant corner I have ever had the privilege to watch. He has the physical traits, standing at 6’2” with the wingspan of a California Condor. He has the ball skills, tallying 26 career interceptions and 79 passes defended. And most importantly, he has the mind. If at times it looks like Sherman knows exactly what is going to happen before the snap. It’s because he usually does. Not only does he spend hours watching film, but he is able to digest it all and directly translate it to the field. Sherman made the transition from receiver to defensive back in the middle of his college career at Stanford. Having an in depth knowledge of what it takes to play on the other side of the ball has clearly served Sherman well. Some might say Sherman hasn’t been as dominant the last two seasons. I argue he’s been so dominant that his impact can no longer be measured with stats. Or at least not interceptions. People aren’t throwing at him. Putting up big numbers is nice, but the ultimate sign of a great corner is when elite quarterbacks refuse to throw to their side of the field. I look for Sherman to have another dominant year in that sense and to continue taking away half of the field.
Earl Thomas: The human missile. The Seahawks seem to love guys with unique skill sets because they put them in situations where they can maximize the use of these skills. Earl Thomas has speed. He’s one of those rare athletes who makes it seem like he could be lined up in the defensive backfield by himself and the offense still might have a tough time completing a pass. A perfect illustration of this was in the wildcard game at Minnesota last year. There was a play where a guy was seemingly running free down the seam and Earl came from out of the picture to knock it away. That’s just one example, but Earl has made countless plays just like it. Even though he is great in the pass game Earl is never scared to stick his nose in the running game. He may be small but when he fills to make a tackle he acts like he’s bigger than Kam Chancellor. I never get tired of watching Earl play. On a defense that seemingly never gives up the big play Earl is right in the middle of it. Literally! Thomas flat out just gets me jacked to watch football. His passion for the game is on display every single play. He possesses a rare intensity on and off the field. Like when he was recovering from shoulder surgery heading in to the 2015 season and showed up to training camp in what was basically full gear even though he wasn’t yet cleared for contact. Everyone that was fully participating in practice was in shorts and there’s Earl doing freaking agility drills in his game pants. That basically sums up ET. I expect him to return to his all pro form in 2016 as he comes in to camp fully healthy and well rested. When It’s all said and done and Earl hangs up his cleats (which he will probably try to avoid until he’s forty) I expect him to be considered one of the best Free Safety’s to ever lace ’em up. He will certainly be a guy who ends up in the Seahawks Ring of Honor. People need to appreciate Thomas while he is still in his prime. He is a huge part of what allows this defense to play so aggressively and won’t be easily replaced.
Kam Chancellor: Bam Bam Kam, Slam Slantsler, The Dark Night, The Enforcer, Vernon Davis’ father. Whatever you call Kam, it all means the same thing. This guy is an absolute monster on the football field and with the retirement of Marshawn Lynch, he is now undeniably the most feared. Want a fun career highlight mix? Youtube Kam Chancellor. I have never seen somebody tally as many devastating hits as the Hawk’s Strong Safety. Having Kam play safety is like having an extra linebacker on the field. I mean the guy is 6’3” 225lbs. Kam is no doubt the intimidator of this defense. He single handedly ruined Vernon Davis ,who before that fateful Sunday night game in 2012 was regarded as one of the best tight ends in the game. And if that wasn’t enough, he absolutely annihilated him again in the 2013 NFC championship game. But Vernon Davis is far from an anomaly. Kam has rocked the world’s of several high profile players over the years. Demarius Thomas in the Super Bowl, Calvin Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Jordy Nelson, Wes Welker, and the list goes on. But perhaps one of my favorite hits was when he put Cardinals Right Tackle Eric Winston on his 300lb back. When I think of Kam, I immediately think of his big hitting bully style of play. Like Earl, but in a much different way, Kam gets me absolutely jacked as fan to watch every single snap. His big hits set the tone, but Kam’s game is so much more than that. Where he has really evolved in the last three or so years is his coverage. He isn’t just a linebacker playing safety. Chancellor has turned himself into an all around defensive back. His footwork has come a long ways and that’s really what makes him the complete package. When he is fully healthy and on his game, there really isn’t a way to exploit him. But the key word is health. Kam is an absolute gamer and has missed very little time in his career (excluding his hiatus from the first two games last year with his ridiculous contract dispute). But I’m not going to get in to that. Water under the bridge. Kam has had nagging injuries throughout his career, but rarely has he missed games do to it. However, the ongoing narrative is can he continue to stay healthy given his punishing style of play? Will all his nicks and bruises catch up to him and affect his play? I can’t say with certainty. I do think 2016 will be a good indicator of where Kam is at and ultimately what his longevity will be. I still hope to see a few more years of him making opponents involuntarily go to sleep.
Jeremy Lane: It’s funny because I still think of Jeremy Lane as this up and comer young guy in the secondary. That’s actually no longer the case as the multifaceted corner prepares for his fifth season. Lane has shown flashes of brilliance during his tenure in Seattle. With so much talent in the secondary, Lane is often overlooked. J-Lane seemed to be really coming along in 2014 as the Hawks made their stretch run to their second Super Bowl in as many years. As many fans remember, Lane actually made a crucial play picking off Tom Brady in the end zone in the first quarter of Super Bowl XLIX. Unfortunately just seconds later his return ended in a gruesome injury in which he not only broke his arm, but also tore his ACL. This changed the trajectory of that game as the Patriots found some success going after his replacement, Tharold Simon. It also changed the trajectory of Lane’s career. The injury obviously led to a long road to recovery. Lane missed a good chunk of last season trying to get healthy again. He was able to suit up for the final six games and actually bounced back pretty nicely. We only got a small preview of what Lane can be post injury last year, but I like what I saw. I love Lanes versatility. He has the capability of playing the nickel spot as well as outside. We’ve seen him play a good amount in both roles over the years and I think that is a huge asset for the defense. I think we will be seeing him playing both spots again in 2016, but I really believe he has the inside track to be the starting corner opposite Sherman. He will be pushed, but if he can remain healthy I think it could be his breakthrough year. The front office might have hinted at that by signing him to a nice extension in the offseason. A fully healthy Jeremy Lane could really shore up a secondary looking to return to Super Bowl form.
Deshawn Shead: Another guy who is extremely versatile is Deshawn Shead. Kris Richard can basically line up the Portland State alum anywhere in the secondary. Shead was a guy that I honestly didn’t think would last on this team. He always seemed to be just another guy who’s ceiling was basically being a solid special teamer who could fill in as a defensive back in a pinch. And for a while there it seemed like I was right. Last year disproved that theory entirely. With injuries, Chancellor’s holdout, and the Cary Williams disaster, the Seahawks did find themselves in a pinch. Deshawn Shead was called upon to play every position in the secondary throughout the course of 2015. He was far from a weak link and by the end of the season he turned out to be one of the most reliable guys on that side of the ball. He has blossomed in to a great utility guy, and that is incredibly valuable in this system. I now no longer place a ceiling on what Shead can be. He might be a dark horse to challenge Lane for that other corner spot, but I think the utility role suits him and the team perfectly. I look for Deshawn to have a lot of opportunities in multiple positions. If nothing else, this guy proved he needs to be on the field.
Tharold Simon: To me Simon is the biggest question mark in the secondary going into 2016. It has been such a small sample size during his short career. Injuries and a steep learning curve to begin his professional campaign make it difficult to assess who Tharold is, heading in to year four. As far as ability, I believe Simon might be the most athletic DB on the roster. He has size, strength, and explosiveness. At 6’3” and 200lbs, Simon is a prototypical fit to play corner on a Pete Carroll defense. From the limited film Simon has put up, I actually really like what I see. He’s looked pretty raw at times, but I think at this stage in his career and coming in fully healthy, Simon might take a huge step forward. Whether we will end up seeing the potential realized or not remains to be seen. Simon is a guy I expect big things from this year and is my pick to make the biggest leap in performance. Of all the players I’ve mentioned, I believe Simon is the one that will actually push Lane the hardest for that other starting corner spot. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Simon ends up winning the job at some point this season.
Marcus Burley: Burley has been a solid depth guy the past two seasons in Seattle. I Don’t see him as a guy with starting potential on this team, but he is nonetheless extremely valuable. The key to success over a long NFL season is having depth and, as I mentioned. Burley provides that. While other guys on this team possess more flash, Burley is a guy that can do the dirty work. There will be a point this season where I will be extremely happy that Marcus Burley is on this roster. There will be a time due to injury, matchup or otherwise, when his number will be called. And I fully expect him to answer in a big way.
We all remember BB. Especially fellow OSU fans. The guy that resurrected his NFL career in Seattle and later became a staple in the OG Legion of Boom. Brandon isn’t afraid to mix it up with anyone and I love that about him. Sure there are going to be a good amount of penalties, but I’ve always taken the good with the bad. He has also had a knack for making the big plays in key moments. But this isn’t the same Brandon Browner from two years ago. He’s gotten older and his time in New Orleans appeared to indicate he has in fact lost a step. The Seahawk’s knew this when they brought him back and everything I’ve heard would indicate that they see him fitting into a hybrid role. They basically want him to be a bully that can line up all over the field. He might even play some outside linebacker in passing situations. If this is the case I actually love that idea. Tight ends in the middle of the field were the achilles heel for this defense last year. Someone like Brandon Browner can put an end to that real quick. I hope to see Browner mix it up with some of these guys and frustrate opposing offenses. It will be interesting to see how Browner adjusts to this new role.
Kelsey McCray: McCray was acquired from Kansas City last year as a way to buy a little insurance at the safety spot. When called upon he was able to fill in and do what was asked of him. I don’t see McCray as a major contributor on this team. If he makes the roster it will once again be for insurance purposes. Don’t get me wrong, It’s not that I don’t think he is a solid player, it’s just that this is such a deep and talented secondary. One thing I will say, is that if the injury bug bites this team McCray might quickly find himself playing crucial snaps. As I mentioned before, depth is as important as talent on an NFL roster and McCray is someone who gives the Seahawk’s depth.
Steven Terrell: Much like McCray Terrell provides depth where it is needed at the safety position. Specifically the Free Safety position. If Earl goes down, Terrell is the prime candidate to fill in. Going into his fourth year he still has room to improve his game, but he also has enough NFL experience where the coaching staff can feel comfortable throwing him in on a moments notice. Steven Terrell isn’t going do things the way Earl can. Nobody can. But he still has the ability to fly around and make plays when called upon and that’s something every good secondary needs in their back ups. Injuries are part of the game and at some point over the course of an NFL season, depth is always tested.
The Other Guys: Jordan Farmer, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, DeAndre Elliot, Douglas McNeill III, Trovon Reed, Tye Smith, Tanner McEvoy, and Tyvis Powell. Similar to the unproven guys at receiver, all of these athletes will be fighting for their lives throughout camp and preseason. They are going to have to leave a major impression on the coaching staff to earn their way on to this roster. One guy I think is capable of just that is The Smith, who Seattle drafted last year. They really like his upside and I think he fits in well to this secondary’s style of play. He has a long ways to go but I think he might just make a big jump in year two and land a roster spot on a seemingly loaded team.
Most Intriguing Storyline: Will one of the most dominant secondary’s to ever play the game return to form in 2016? Don’t get me wrong, last season was still solid but they were not themselves. Between injuries and distractions there were times when everything was way out of sink. oftentimes this group fell victim to confusion due to miscommunication which is insane given how long they have played together. On top of that the three best players, Richard, Earl, and Kam all were coming off pretty difficult injuries and just never fully looked like themselves. The momentum changing plays were still there, but not as consistently as we’ve grown accustomed to. Interceptions were dropped, some tackles were missed, and coverages blown. I don’t mean to sound too harsh, but I know for a fact this unit is historically good and the way they played last year wasn’t up to the standard they hold themselves too.
Final Analysis: Party like it’s 2013 or 2014! I think the secondary will show up in a big way this year. Much like how we have been used to them doing in previous years. They won’t just be solid, they are going to get back to absolutely dominating and intimidating offenses. This group is the backbone of the team and this season should be one in which they solidify their place in history. I can’t wait for this thing to get going.