The Pink zone

Posted Aug 21, 2011

The touchdown-saving play that safety Josh Pinkard made in the Seahawks’ preseason home opener on Saturday night was just like the one that first attracted Pete Carroll to Pinkard as a high school junior.

After taking a pass from Joe Webb, Emmanuel Arceneaux was racing toward the end zone for a touchdown that would have stretched the Minnesota Vikings’ lead to 20-7.

But Josh Pinkard had other plans in the Seahawks’ preseason home opener at CenturyLink Field on Saturday night. Trailing the play, the second-year safety caught Arceneaux and knocked the ball from his grasp at the 2-yard line. The heads-up play forced a fumble that resulted in a touchback, as the ball went out of the back of the end zone.

The Vikings would win 20-7, anyway, but Pinkard’s left-handed poke was one of the few highlights from a game that left coach Pete Carroll disappointed.

“Ever since Pink was a junior in high school, he’s knocked balls out like that,” Carroll said after the game, which evened the Seahawks’ preseason record at 1-1. “He did it in college all the way through.

“He’s an uncanny guy at getting the football out.”

Carroll would know. While coaching at USC, he recruited Pinkard out of Hueneme High School in Oxnard, Calif., where Pinkard was a Prep All-American. Carroll then coached Pinkard during his career with the Trojans, where Pinkard was a three-year starter and second-team all-Pac-10 choice his senior season.

“That didn’t surprise me a bit,” Carroll said about Pinkard’s latest edition of his signature play. “I’ve seen him do so many things like that. It was a very good play. It was a great play.”

Told of Carroll’s words in the locker room, Pinkard responded with a smile as big as the play.

“I think it’s just all the years my uncle telling me, ‘When you get out there, just go for the ball; go get the ball,’ ” he said. “It just kind of stuck with me.

“My junior year, that first play, it was almost that same play. I just saw some air around the ball, so it was a great opportunity. I’m just thankful for it happening and being in that position.”

Pinkard deserves his moment in the spotlight, even if it did come in a preseason game – and one in which his team did not play well. He missed the 2006 and 2007 seasons at USC after tearing ligament in first his left knee and then the right. He began last season with the Seahawks on the reserve/non-football injury list before being signed to practice squad in November and finally added to the 53-man roster in January.

How did Pinkard persevere? “Just pushing through adversity and just keeping my faith and just knowing where my strength comes from, I’ll be fine,” he said.

Pinkard was signed as an undrafted free agent last year as a cornerback. He was moved to strong safety in training camp this summer. No worries, says the look on Pinkard’s face, because he played both spots at USC.

“It’s been a comfortable move,” he said. “I came in playing safety in college. They had a couple of injuries, so they moved me to corner. Just making a move for the team.”

A defensive back with the size (6-1, 218) to play safety and the coverage skills to play corner. Not a bad combination.

“Just being blessed with the God-given ability to play both, it was a great opportunity for me to play both in college,” he said. “Now being back at safety, it’s a great feeling.”

But Pinkard also is aware that there are quality players in front of him no matter where he plays: Marcus Trufant, Kelly Jennings, Walter Thurmond, Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell at cornerback; Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Atari Bigby and Mark LeGree at safety.

Rather than worry about that, Pinkard is more concerned with making plays when they come his way.

“He just hasn’t had a chance to show it yet,” Carroll said.

Finally given that chance, Pinkard is showing what those who know him already know.

“He makes plays whenever he’s in. He makes things happen,” former USC All-American safety Darnell Bing once said. “He doesn’t go out there and freeze. He does more than knock heads. He makes plays, interceptions, the whole nine yards.”

Just like the play he made at the 2-yard line on Saturday night.