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Stepping in, stepping up
Marcus Trufant will not be on the field Sunday when the Seahawks play the Browns in Cleveland, or the rest of the season for that matter.
A disc issue in Trufant’s back forced the team to place him on the season-ending injured reserve list Monday – a loss defensive backs coach Kris Richard calls “heartbreaking.”
But if you look closely at Walter Thurmond, the second-year corner who will step in on the left side, you’ll see some of the tricks of his trade that he has learned from Trufant.
“Marcus has helped me understand route concepts, studying offensive coordinators and what they like to run,” Thurmond said. “He’s been very helpful in just helping me grow.”
Richard, who played with Trufant as a Seahawks cornerback in 2002 and 2003 and now coaches him, couldn’t agree more.
“That’s the message of the (meeting) room, and Tru has embraced it,” Richard said Tuesday, during a break from the coaches putting the finishing touches on the game plan for the Browns.
“And that is, ‘It’s not what you know; it’s what the next man knows.’ So what are you willing to share? What are you going to leave behind? What kind of impact are you going to have? Because this game is more than just about you, it’s a team game.”
As good a player as Trufant has been since the Seahawks made him the 11th pick in the 2003 NFL Draft – which is good enough to be voted to the 35th Anniversary team and also a Pro Bowl – he always has been an even better teammate and team player.
“When you can no longer play, or you’re out, wouldn’t you want the next man behind you to come right on in and not miss a beat?” Richard said. “Again, that’s a testament to Marcus’ character, and Walter’s.”
That’s also why the coaches weren’t left in a what-now situation when Trufant’s back situation proved to be worse than originally thought. They have been grooming Thurmond to be a starter since selecting him in the fourth round of last year’s draft.
Thurmond got off to a slow start last summer because he was coming off a major knee injury that ended his senior season at the University of Oregon. But he started one game for since-traded Kelly Jennings on the right side last season and played extensive stints in three others when either Trufant or Jennings was injured – including a nine-tackle effort against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in New Orleans and a seven-tackle game against the San Diego Chargers.
This summer, the thought was that Thurmond would compete for – and likely win – the starting job opposite Trufant. He didn’t disappoint, coming out “on fire, absolutely on fire,” as Richard put it, when training camp opened. But a high ankle sprain stopped Thurmond’s bid, and Brandon Browner won the starting spot on the right side.
But the fact remains, Thurmond has been groomed to start and now gets his chance on a fulltime basis. Thurmond started the pre-bye week game against the New York Giants for Trufant and contributed three tackles, two key pass breakups and a forced fumble to the 36-25 upset victory.
“Absolutely,” Richard said when asked if he felt Thurmond was ready to become the rest-of-the-season starter. “I don’t think there is a guy who does not prepare themselves that way, because the first thing you’re taught is, ‘You’re one play away.’ ”
Or in Thurmond’s case, one injury.
“Walter is tenacious,” Richard said. “He absolutely has the necessary speed and quickness that you desire from corners on this level. And he’s got some fire to him. He seems like a quiet guy, but the mentality is there.”
Not to mention all tricks Thurmond has gleaned from Trufant in their time together.
“It’s heartbreaking to lose just the man that Marcus is, more so than the player,” Richard said. “Because you know how much he loves to play this game. This is a very humbling game. But I’ve said this before: Marcus is probably the toughest corner that I’ve been around – physically and mentally.
“It’s a tough blow. But it’s part of the game.”
Just like Trufant continuing to share his knowledge with all the young players in defensive backs’ meeting room.