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Seahawks have quality and quantity at cornerback
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Last week, when first-year defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was discussing not only the quality but the quantity of cornerbacks on the Seahawks’ 90-man roster, he said, “It’s a very good group. It’s a very deep group.”
Monday, Walter Thurmond, one of those talented corners, offered: “We have a lot of depth in the secondary. All the way to the threes (third unit), we have guys that can start for any team around the league.”
In the Seahawks’ just-completed OTA sessions, those corners justified those comments – and then some – as evidenced by these plays from the last three practices this week:
To cornerback Byron Maxwell somehow tipping away a low throw that Jerrod Johnson had seemingly put where only wide receiver Justin Veltung could get it …
To Pro Bowl-caliber corner Brandon Browner batting away a Wilson pass intended for wide receiver Golden Tate …
To Thurmond’s leaping interception of a Brady Quinn pass in the back of the end zone, igniting a flurry of high-fives from the other defensive backs – those on the sideline as well as the field …
To Jeremy Lane chasing down a pass that appeared to be out of his reach – or anyone else’s – for another end-zone pick …
To Will Blackmon’s recovery after a receiver had gotten a step on him to break up a deep pass from Johnson …
To Thurmond arriving at the wide receiver Bryan Walters at the same time as a short pass from Quinn.
To Sherman being in better position than intended receiver Doug Baldwin to slap away a Wilson pass …
To Browner breaking up a Wilson pass that heading toward the hands of Tate …
To Sherman making a leaping sideline deflection of Johnson’s pass to Walters.
“Really it’s a testament to these individuals – how committed they are to doing things right,” said Kris Richard, who played cornerback for the Seahawks from 2002-04 and now is entering his fourth season as the team’s defensive backs coach.
“And always, when it comes down to it, you just want to be competing at your highest level; doing the best that you’re capable of.”
Even if it is “only” an OTA session in June.
This increased competition – and those doing the competing – has happened suddenly, as Quinn is well aware. Since he was here in 2009-10 as the defensive line coach, the secondary has undergone an almost-complete makeover. In 2009, the starting corners were Marcus Trufant and Josh Wilson, with Deon Grant and Jordan Babineaux as the safeties. All are gone, replaced by – in order – Sherman, a fifth-round draft choice in 2011; Browner, who was signed to a future contract in 2011 and ended up playing in the Pro Bowl after spending four seasons in the CFL; strong safety Kam Chancellor, a fifth-round draft choice in 2010; and All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas, a first-round pick in 2010.
The other cornerbacks? Thurmond was a fourth-round draft choice in 2010. Lane (last year) and Maxwell (2011) were sixth-round draft choices. Antoine Winfield, a three-time Pro Bowl selection while with the Minnesota Vikings, was signed in free agency this year. Blackmon also was signed this offseason. DeShawn Shead was added as a rookie free agent last year. Ron Parker originally was claimed off waivers in 2011 and returned last season after being signed off the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad. Tharold Simon was a fifth-round draft pick this year.
“We have a bunch of fifth- and sixth-round picks,” Richard said. “The one common denominator is tenacity and hunger. If you have that, we can work with you. But you’ve got to be courageous, you have to be tenacious and you’ve got to be hungry.
“That’s what all these guys have, and that’s what makes them really cool to work with them – they don’t act like they know it all. They want to learn, and that’s part of the hunger. The hunger is to learn. The hunger is to compete. The hunger to get out there and prove themselves each and every single day that they’ve earned the right, that they deserve to be out there.”
In the just-concluded OTAs, the unit breakdown went like this: Sherman and Browner as the starters, and Winfield as the nickel back; Lane and Thurmond with the second unit; Maxwell and Blackmon with the third unit; Shead and Parker getting their snaps as spot replacements for Blackmon; and Simon watching because of a foot injury.
With discussing the competition between Winfield and Thurmond for the nickel back spot, even coach Pete Carroll conceded, “I feel more confident now than at any time in the years we’ve been here with the depth and that kind of experience there.”
But just how many of these cornerbacks can the Seahawks carry on the 53-man roster, and eight-man practice squad? That remains to be seen, as their heated competition moves into next week’s three-day mandatory minicamp and then training camp and the preseason.
“When you’re facing the ‘stiff competition’ you’re facing here, all you can do is be your best,” Richard said. “Because at the end of the day, the decision is out of your hands.”
For now, the Seahawks’ corners are using those hands to make the decisions more difficult.