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Seahawks 2012: Defensive backs
Kris Richard is dealing from – and with – a position of strength.
Despite playing with three first-year starters last season, the Seahawks’ secondary that is coached by Richard sent three players to the Pro Bowl: Second-year free safety Earl Thomas, second-year strong safety Kam Chancellor and first-year-in-the-NFL cornerback Brandon Browner.
They’re all back, and seemingly better, as are Richard Sherman, the rookie third-option who finished the season as the starting left cornerback; former starter Marcus Trufant, who has been working as the third corner who covers the slot receiver in the nickel package; and two other corners who have started games the past two seasons – Walter Thurmond and Roy Lewis.
“You hear that old adage, you’re only as strong as you’re weakest link,” said Richard, who played cornerback for the Seahawks from 2002-04 and is in his third year of coaching the defensive backs.
“Well, how about no weak links? No weak links. Then how strong are you?”
Makes sense. No other team in the league had three defensive backs play in the Pro Bowl last season. No other team in the league had three defensive backs ranked among the Top 10 cornerbacks and safeties in the league by the Sporting News this offseason.
And the depth, and talent, in this group extends beyond the Big Three Plus One.
There’s Trufant, who went to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and has started 123 games in nine seasons since being a first-round draft choice in 2003. There’s Lewis, who is as valuable as he is versatile. There’s Thurmond, who was expected to be a starter last season before being sidelined by a high ankle sprain in training camp and then started three games at midseason before needing surgery to repair a broken ankle.
Last year, the draft delivered cornerback Byron Maxwell, as well as Sherman. This year, it was Winston Guy, who looks to have the skills needed to be the third safety in the big nickel; and cornerback Jeremy Lane. Safeties Jeron Johnson and Chris Maragos were added as free agents last year.
“Each and every single person in this (meeting) room is bringing something to the table that makes us who we are,” Richard said. “It’s up to each and every single person in this room to insure that we have no weak links.”
You could see that theory put into practice during the minicamps and OTA practices, as the starters were helping the draft picks and the backups were explaining nuances of coverages to players who have their eyes on their roster spots.
It’s an all-for-one, one-for-all attitude that not only plays to Richard’s weakest-link assessment, but helps those who are helping others also become better players.
“If they come to you and ask you questions, do you know?” Richard said. “If you’re helping them with their technique or helping them with the defense, do you really know? So yeah, if you want to step in and you want to help, then you have to know, too.
“Then you become an extension of the coach’s voice, and that’s exactly what you’re after. That’s the environment we’re trying to cultivate here: Each one teach one.”
If there’s one thing Richard would like to see less of, it’s the pass-interference and illegal-contact penalties that will come when you play as aggressively as the Seahawks defensive backs do.
“All the rules still apply, so it’s something we know we have to get better at,” Richard said. “Too many pass-interference calls. Too many illegal-contact calls. So even with all the success, we still can get better.”
The goal is to increase the one (aggressiveness) while reducing the other (penalties).
“It’s a strength of ours,” Richard said, “that we certainly do not want to become a weakness because we’re undisciplined.”
With that said, here’s a closer look at the unit:
Defensive backs on the 90-man roster: 17
Defensive backs carried on the 53-man roster: nine last season, nine in 2010
Incumbent backups: CB Roy Lewis, CB Byron Maxwell, CB Phillip Adams, SS Jeron Johnson, FS Chris Maragos
On injured reserve at the end of last season: CB Marcus Trufant (12 games), CB Walter Thurmond (10 games), CB Ron Parker (three games)
On the practice squad last year: CB Coye Francies
Draft picks: S Winston Guy, CB Jeremy Lane
Rookie free agents: CB Donny Lisowski, S DeShawn Shead
Outlook: What do these guys do for an encore? Include Sherman in the contingent that plays in the Pro Bowl. Thomas was voted a starter on the NFC squad last season, while Chancellor and Browner were first alternates who went as injury replacements. But who got the nod as the DB who was playing the best at the end of the season? Sherman. As coach Pete Carroll is fond of saying, the jump for first- to second-year starters often is the most-dramatic improvement a player will make, and that group includes Sherman, and Chancellor, and Browner. With Trufant as the nickel back and Guy showing he can fill the third safety spot in the big nickel, these guys might just be getting started.