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Reaching new heights
There’s the long and short of it. There are longshots and long odds. There’s even the long road home, not to mention the long and winding road. And don’t forget the long goodbye.
But this is a story about length of a different kind – the long limbs attached to the Seahawks’ starting defensive backs. Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that Seattle’s No. 4-ranked defense relies heavily on the size of those four players: 6-foot-4 cornerback Brandon Browner, 6-3 cornerback Richard Sherman, 6-3 strong safety Kam Chancellor and, to a lesser extent, 5-10 free safety Earl Thomas.
But did you know that each also possesses a wingspan that is an even taller order for opposing receivers to deal with?
Browner checks in at 6 feet 8, fingertip of extended arm to fingertip of extended arm. Sherman is at 6-5½, Chancellor at 6-4½ and even Thomas “gains” 4½ inches to 6-2½.
Does it make a difference? How could it not? Especially when matched against some of the longer-limbed receivers the Seahawks have faced – the Lions’ Calvin Johnson (6-5), Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald (6-3), Packers’ Jordy Nelson (6-3), Rams’ Austin Pettis (6-3), Panthers’ tight end Greg Olsen (6-5), Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski (6-6), 49ers’ Randy Moss (6-4) and tight end Vernon Davis (6-3) and Vikings’ Michael Jenkins (6-4).
“I can put hands on a guy from a further distance than, say, a 5-11 cornerback,” Browner said. “And a guy can also get a step on me and I still have the ability to make up for it when the ball is coming in because my arms are a little longer.”
Whatever it is, it’s working. Since Browner, Sherman and Chancellor joined Thomas in the secondary last season, this foursome has 24 interceptions – nine by Browner, seven by Sherman and four each by Thomas and Chancellor; and 85 passes defensed – 29 by Browner, 28 by Sherman, 15 by Chancellor and 13 by Thomas.
“They have giants in the secondary,” is the way Lions coach Jim Schwartz put it before his team’s Week 8 game against the Giants, er, Seahawks. “With those guys, it’s like a junior college basketball team out there with their length.
“There are a lot of big receivers in the league, but Seattle has come a long way to matching up with those guys.”
And the Seahawks’ long-armed DBs do it without really being aware that they’re doing it
“I’m so used to it, I don’t think about it as anything,” Sherman said. “But it gives you space. It gives you room. It keeps the receiver at bay.”
Added Browner, “I don’t think, ‘Oh, I’m long, I’m going to make this play.’ I just play football. It may look that way to people, but that’s not the way I’m looking at it.”
The advantage, however, is there. It has been, and not just in football. As Sherman said, “Through history, people used spears and swords instead of just hand fighting. Because it extends the reach, and people want to have a long reach because the longer you can grab the more damage you can do.
“It definitely helps when the ball’s in the air, because you can be semi out of position and still bat the ball down. I can slip coming out of a break and be catching up, but I’m still able to get a fingertip on it – which can be enough to get the ball out.”
And how do all these long arms look from the other side? Constraining, especially when trying to get off the line against press coverage.
“They force you to take wider releases or they force you to be smarter with your releases,” said Doug Baldwin, the Seahawks’ leading receiver last season. “Especially our guys, because they’re so good at using their hands. So it’s difficult to get off that press (coverage).”
But long arms also can help in playing the run.
“Just in case I get juked at the feet, I can reach with my arms and grab somebody and still make the tackle,” said Chancellor, who ranked second on the team with 94 tackles last season and is third with 61 this season. “It’s like my backup plan. If I can’t get my whole body on him, I’m long enough to stretch out and get my arms on him.”
Chancellor then cracked a smile before adding, “And having long legs kind of gives you an advantage, too.” Putting the index and middle fingers of his right hand into the palm of his left hand and mimicking someone running, he said, “If you’ve got a little guy that runs like that, I’m a long guy who takes big strides.”
And Thomas? He offers a why-are-you-asking-me-about-this look.
“I don’t think my arms are that long,” he said. But after pondering the question and the situation, Thomas added, “But if you’re talking about Richard or B.B., with their job it definitely helps them out a lot and gives them a great advantage because they’re so long.”
So to say that a primary reason why the Seahawks’ secondary is having so much success is connected to their long arms is hardly a reach.