Secondary options

Posted Apr 25, 2012

Despite already spending six picks on defensive backs, and compiling a secondary that features three Pro Bowl players, John Schneider and Pete Carroll are not overlooking any scenario in their third draft together.

The opinions and analysis contained in this feature represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the thoughts and opinions of the Seahawks' coaching staff and personnel department.

BLOG: 2012 NFL Draft: Defensive backs | A few moments with: Mark Barron


This is the eighth in a series of articles previewing the three-day NFL Draft. Today: Defensive backs. Thursday: The Seahawks’ options with the 12th pick in the first round. Previously: The Seahawks’ take on the draft; the quarterbacks; the running backs; the receivers; the offensive line; the defensive line; the linebackers.  

The Draft
Round 1:
Thursday, 5 p.m.
Rounds 2-3: Friday, 4 p.m.
Rounds 4-7:
Saturday, 9 a.m.  

Seahawks picks
First round: No. 12 overall
Second round: No. 43
Third round: No. 75
Fourth round: No. 106
Fifth round: No pick; to Bills in Marshawn Lynch trade
Sixth round: No. 181
Seventh round: Own pick, No. 219, traded to Lions for Tyler Polumbus; No. 225, from Raiders in Aaron Curry trade  

Seahawks Draft party: Thursday, CenturyLink Field Event Center, 4 p.m. More information available here.

It was 10 years ago that the Seahawks selected Kris Richard in the third round of the NFL Draft.

A lot has changed in the past decade, starting with Richard now coaching the position he once played for the team that drafted him in 2002 and highlighted by the physical characteristics of those players the former cornerback from USC is coaching.

But some things never change.

“I don’t think it has change, per se,” Richard said on Draft Eve, as the coaches on Pete Carroll’s staff and the scouts on general manager John Schneider’s staff were making the final tweaks in preparations for Thursday’s first round.

“What was important than is still important today. That’s just being able to eliminate big plays. As a corner, you’ve got to be able to really be in a lead position because if you’re getting the ball thrown over your head you can’t help a team win. Same thing for a safety, where you would think tackling is more important. But, no, it’s eliminating big plays.

“That same fundamental truth remains true today.”

It’s just that status quo does not describe the Seahawks’ secondary.

They play really fast at free safety with Earl Thomas, a first-round draft choice in 2010; and really big at strong safety with 6-foot-3, 232-pound Kam Chancellor, a find of a fifth-round pick in that first draft headed by Schneider and Carroll. At the corners, it’s long and longer, with 6-4 Brandon Browner on the right side and 6-3 Richard Sherman on the left side. They arrived last year, Browner as a free agent after playing in the CFL and Sherman as another look-what-we-found fifth-round draft choice.

Thomas, Chancellor and Browner capped their first season together by playing in the Pro Bowl, while Sherman drew some all-rookie consideration – after stepping in at midseason for an injured Walter Thurmond, who had stepped in for an injured Marcus Trufant.

Trufant also is back, as is situational corner Roy Lewis; and Thurmond will be once he completes his rehab.

“That’s just here,” Richard said with a laugh when asked if getting much bigger in the secondary was a league-wide trend. “Obviously, we’re committed to big, long, fast, strong corners.”

So the Seahawks are set in the secondary, right? Well, not in Carroll’s always-compete – and always-add-to-the-competition – world.

When the Seahawks make the 12th pick in the first round, Alabama safety Mark Barron could be tempting; as would South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore if the Seahawks drop a few spots by trading out of No. 12.

“We’ve discussed every option and opportunity at great length, so we’ve already cleared our way through the decision,” Carroll said. “You obviously can do it for the first 12 picks, and as you get farther down things change. At this position early in the draft and in the first round here, we’re going to get through every one of them, and we won’t be surprised by the opportunity that is presented.”

But isn’t even considering a defensive back overkill? Not at all says Jon Gruden, the former NFL head coach who is now an analyst for ESPN.

“You’d better take as many skill cover guys as you can find, whether they’re safeties, big corners or small corners,” said Gruden, whose read-and-react safeties helped his Tampa Bay Buccaneers upset the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.

“You’d better get people that can cover and tackle in one-on-one situations. I think that goes hand-in-hand. Everybody talks about covering, and a lot of teams don’t even play man-to-man. They’re all playing all different kind of combination zone coverages. You have to be able to tackle in one-on-one situations with all these no-back formations, spread formations.”

Enough said? Not just yet. “And finally,” Gruden added, “you’d better get some smart guys that love football because more and more teams are going to the no-huddle offense and you rely on communication and intelligence to execute (in the secondary).”

Especially if you happen to play in the NFC West.

The defending division champion San Francisco 49ers already had Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and they added Randy Moss this offseason. In Arizona, Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is lobbying for the Cardinals to draft Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd with the 13th pick in the first round. The St. Louis Rams, who traded out of the No. 2 spot in Thursday’s first round, could have a shot at Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon at No. 6 and Stanford tight end Coby Fleener with the first pick in the second round on Friday – and they’ve already signed Steve Smith in free agency and slot receiver Danny Amendola has returned from the dislocated elbow that cost him most of last season.

That’s why the Seahawks already have spent six picks in their first two drafts under Schneider and Carroll on defensive backs – Thomas, Chancellor and Thurmond in 2010; Sherman, Byron Maxwell and since-released Mark LeGree last year.

“We’re going to find a way to fit that guy in if we think he’s that special,” Carroll said this week when asked about accommodating the skills of his spectrum-stretching safeties. “You’ve seen it in really good examples (with) ‘Deuce’ (Thomas) and with Kam Chancellor. They couldn’t be more on opposite ends of the spectrum physically.

“But both are flourishing in our system because we’re asking them to do things that they can. So if we said, ‘We want big safeties,’ we would have never taken ‘Deuce,’ and vice versa. I would like to think that’s a real strength of ours and it’s an openness to try and find a way to get a guy on our club that gives us something that other people can’t.”

In a Seahawks secondary already revamped with players who possess – no, flaunt – their unique talents, it’s just becoming more difficult.