The kids can play

Posted Oct 19, 2011

The Seahawks' game against the Browns on Sunday will be a Longhorn reunions of sorts, as Earl Thomas and the team's other young defensive backs try to corral Colt McCoy.

Call them fast. Call them athletic. Call them physical. Because they are.

Just don’t call the Seahawks’ defensive backs young, even though they’re that, too. Not in front of Earl Thomas anyway.

“I don’t think we play as young as we are,” Thomas, the Seahawks’ second-year free safety, said on Wednesday. “I think we play with a lot of fire out there. Everybody is hungry and we all get to the ball.

“And good things always happen when you’re around the ball.”

With veteran cornerback Marcus Trufant being placed on injured reserve Monday because of disc problem in his back, Thomas is the senior member of the secondary – at least in terms of NFL games started. Right cornerback Brandon Browner is older (27), but he has started all of five NFL games after playing the past four seasons in the CFL.

Thomas is only 22, but he has been a starter since the Seahawks selected him with the 14th pick in last year’s NFL Draft – which makes for a grand total of 21 starts. Kam Chancellor, the second-year strong safety, has made four starts. Walter Thurmond, who steps in for Trufant on the left side, also is in his second season and has started two games at cornerback.

This, well, young group will be tested in Sunday’s game against the Browns in Cleveland, and Thomas also knows a little something about that because he played with Browns QB Colt McCoy at the University of Texas.

“When you’ve got a guy like Colt who can scramble, you’ve got to plaster him once he gets out of the pocket because he’ll beat you by throwing it deep,” Thomas said.

That ploy is replayed on NFL fields every week. The quarterback breaks from the pocket. The defensive backs react by coming up to help out. The ball sails over their heads for a big play.

“I’ve told the DBs, ‘It doesn’t matter if he has 70 yards passing, he still can find a way to win because he can do so much without passing the ball and just running,’ ” Thomas said.

Or, selling the run and then passing.

So the Seahawks’ goal is, as coach Pete Carroll put it, “We’d like to keep him corralled is we can, but he doesn’t let you.”

The task of corralling this Colt – at least when he puts the ball in the air – will fall to Thomas, and Chancellor, and Browner, and Thurmond, and the nickel back – whether it’s rookie Richard Sherman taking over on the left side so Thurmond can slide inside; or Roy Lewis, who practiced for the first time on Wednesday after being on the physically unable to perform list since training camp opened in late July while recovering from the knee surgery that ended his 2010 season.

It’s a group that is as talented as it is young; as physical as it is fast.

“They’ve got some guys back there,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said on Wednesday. “They’ve got all the components that you need and I’m sure they’re going to look at us and try to devise a way to stop us.”

When you look at the Browns’ offense, the first thing that jumps out is that they’ve scored more than 17 points only once this season – and that was in a Week 2 victory over the still-winless and still-Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts.

The next thing that jumps out is that the Browns are averaging 81.6 rushing yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry. The way the Seahawks are playing the run – they’re allowing a league-low 3.1 yards per carry and rank seventh in average rushing yards allowed per game (97.3) – there could be a lot McCoy-launched pigskin filling the sky above Browns Stadium on Sunday.

McCoy put the ball up 61 times and passed for a career-high 350 yards in a 31-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 4 and he has had two other games with at least 40 pass attempts.

That’s not the way Shurmur wants to play, or was planning to play in his first season as the Browns’ head coach.

“I like to run the football,” Shurmur said. “I believe in it and I think we’ve got to do it more.”

Of the 45 and 61 pass attempts in their past two games, Shurmur offered, “I think those two games were more circumstance than philosophy.”

If circumstance trumps philosophy on Sunday, the game could become a turn-back-the-clock showdown between former Longhorns.

“I think Seattle does a nice job in the way they use him,” McCoy said of Thomas. “He’s a pressure guy. He’s a free safety. He’s man-to-man. They ask him to do a lot of different things and he’s pretty good at all of them.

“When he’s on the field, their defense can do a lot of things.”

Just don’t call Thomas young, at least not in front of him.