Practice pays

Posted Jun 6, 2012

Jeremy Lane admits that making plays on the ball when it's in the air wasn't one of his strengths at Northwestern State. But the rookie cornerback showed in Tuesday's last OTA practice that now it is.

As Deon Butler exploded off the line on his way to chasing down a deep pass from Russell Wilson, rookie cornerback Jeremy Lane matched the speedy receiver step for step and was there to go up and make the interception. Later, Lane was there to tip away a pass that was intended for Phil Bates in the end zone. Lane then completed his trifecta of impressive plays by shielding 6-foot-6 receiver Kris Durham from a catchable pass that sailed incomplete.

All of this happened on Tuesday, just before Seahawks coach Pete Carroll informed his players that the final two OTA practices were being cancelled after the league determined the team had violated the rules on contact during one its sessions. In the wake of that news, it’s nice to know that the work the players already had done is paying off.

Say what? Allow Lane to explain.

“In college, I was kind of bad at it,” he said when asked about his ability to make plays on the ball when it’s in the air. “But since I’ve been here, we do a lot of ball drills. So it’s helped me out a lot.”

Losing two of the already-limited practices that teams are allowed this offseason under the new CBA that ended last year’s 136-day lockout is not ideal, but the Seahawks are better equipped to handle it than most teams because of the pace of their workouts.

“As we practiced through our OTA session here, we’ve been trying to find the right tempo to matchup with the rules,” is the way Carroll put it Tuesday. “We’ve pushed it. We are as competitive as you can be in our program, and everything about our program is about competing. We are trying to find out what the limit is and do the right thing.”

It’s a fine line, and one that hasn’t been drawn in the sands of competition just because of the new practice-procedure rules that accompany the new CBA. When Chuck Knox was coaching the Seahawks in the 1980s, he repeatedly expressed concerns about the need for young players to show what they had in practice while also protecting his starters.

“We’ve had great practices,” Carroll said. “Our guys have met expectations. They have worked like crazy to get the job done. We have talked all of the talk throughout the time about taking care of one another, working to make it safe, playing within the guidelines.”

Lane, a sixth-round draft choice from Northwestern State in Louisiana, is one of those players who needs to make the most of every opportunity afforded him if he is going to earn a roster spot in the extremely competitive situation that is the Seahawks’ secondary – which starts with the Pro Bowl trio of free safety Earl Thomas, strong safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Brandon Browner; but also includes cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Marcus Trufant, Roy Lewis, on-the-mend Walter Thurmond and Byron Maxwell, as well as safeties Winston Guy, Jeron Johnson and Chris Maragos.

“I think I’m improving every day, and that’s a good thing,” Lane said when asked to assess his performance during the rookie minicamp and the eight OTA practices.

Better yet, the coaches also think Lane has displayed steady progress.

“Every situation that he’s been in, he’s been in really good position and he’s been able to capitalize,” said Kris Richard, a former cornerback for the Seahawks who now coaches the secondary.

There is the obvious exception: The one-handed catch that Doug Baldwin made last week after going over Lane along the sideline. But the rookie even gained some style points on that play.

“That was just a fantastic catch by Doug,” Richard said. “But Jeremy made the receiver make just a great catch.”

There is a lot to like about Lane. At 6 foot, he is tall by cornerback stands – on a league-wide basis, if not with the Seahawks because their starters the 6-4 Browner and the 6-3 Sherman. Lane plays even longer and taller because of his almost 78-inch wingspan and a 42-inch vertical leap. Then there’s his speed (4.48 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and quick feet.

“Jeremy is focused. He is incredibly athletic, and he’s fast,” Richard said. “Obviously you notice all these things about him during the whole evaluation process. So he hasn’t been a surprise, but it’s been really pleasant to have him around.

“He fits the profile. And he’s been coming along at a fine pace. I think he’s got a real chance.”

One of the keys to having a chance to play corner at this level is a short memory. You can’t dwell on being beaten on a play, because it will only lead to another completion. It’s no different when you make a good play, and it’s a lesson Lane already has learned.

“Same thing,” he said. “No matter how good the play might be, you’ve got to forget about it. Forget about it and move on to the next play.”

Or in this case, the next practice – which won’t be until Tuesday, when the Seahawks begin their mandatory three-day minicamp.