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Underlining the unique

Posted Apr 30, 2011

Day 3 of the NFL Draft brought the Seahawks some players with unique skills, and even included a couple of unique situations, as they added seven more players.


Neither a college graduation ceremony nor a nerve-reducing trip to the movies could halt the Seahawks from completing their 2011 draft class.

General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll spearheaded a group effort that resulted in the Seahawks acquiring seven more players Saturday, several of them with the unique qualities that Carroll has been seeking since he and Schneider arrived last year.

The day began with the selection of Mississippi State linebacker K.J. Wright in the fourth round and ended with another linebacker being tabbed – Malcolm Smith, who played for Carroll at USC. In between, the Seahawks added Georgia wide receiver Kris Durham (fourth round); Stanford cornerback Richard Sherman and Appalachian State safety Mark LeGree (fifth round); Clemson cornerback Byron Maxwell (sixth round); and LSU defensive lineman Pep Levingston (seventh round).

This scavenger hunt for uniqueness also came with some unique moments.

Like Wright getting the call from the Seahawks while he was in line during his graduation ceremony at Mississippi State.

“They just caught me right in the middle of it,” said Wright, a 6-foot-3, 246-pounder who will be tried in a number of roles by the Seahawks – from nickel ’backer, to strong-side ’backer, to Leo pass-rusher.

“They had just started calling the names, so as soon as I got off the phone I had to go up there and walk across the stage (to get my diploma). This is the graduation of the whole school.”

But this also was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to play in the NFL for Wright, because the Seahawks were calling.

“My mind was going everywhere,” Wright said. “I had to whisper, because I really couldn’t talk to them in line. I couldn’t say everything I wanted to. It was a little different.”

Even for Schneider, who has talked to more just-drafted players over the years than he cares to recount.

“It was nuts,” Schneider said. “I just thought he was being really quiet.”

Then there was Maxwell, the 6-1 corner from Clemson. The draft experience had become so intense that he sought refuge at a movie with his girlfriend.

“I had to take my mind off it,” he said.

Nice try. About 45 minutes into “Fast Five,” his phone began to vibrate. Again, it was the Seahawks calling. How did Maxwell feel to finally get the call he had nervously been waiting for?

“Is there a better word than happy?” he asked. “It felt like a relief to get drafted. Now, I will move to the next phase.”

That’s what this three-day draft was all about for Carroll and Schneider, too. A rebuilding process that began last year, when the Seahawks made a staggering 284 roster moves, shifted into the next phase.

They were able to add two bigger corners with the ability to play press coverage in Sherman and Maxwell. They were able to add a centerfielder of a safety in LeGree, although he also can play strong safety -- or even nickel free safety, allowing the coaches to unleash Earl Thomas’ versatility. They were able to add needed depth at linebacker, and do it with the diverse skills of Wright and Smith. They were able to add another big target for the passing game in the 6-5 Durham.

“We picked guys that we really liked,” Carroll said. “And it was fortunate that it happened for us – to come back today and to get all the athletic things that we wanted to get done and to upgrade our speed, upgrade the kind of athleticism that we bring to our team and the style of athletes that we brought.”

All this after landing two likely starters on the offensive line in the first two days of the draft – right tackle James Carpenter from Alabama in the first round on Thursday night and right guard John Moffitt from Wisconsin in the third round on Friday.

“We found two kids that we loved that we got,” Carroll said. “Whether somebody thinks that’s the right guy for them or not, we don’t care about that. For us, and for what we’re doing, we dug in and did our homework and worked hard enough with our scouting department that we feel great about these picks.”

For Carroll, it’s all about the uniqueness factor.

“We’re looking for unique qualities – unique qualities in players that separate them from other people,” Carroll said. “Then we try to accentuate that uniqueness and make them special.”

Saturday, that uniqueness included not only the talents of some of the players the Seahawks selected, but the circumstances under which they contacted them.

Day 1 (Round 1): James Carpenter, OT, Alabama | Day 2 (Round 3): John Moffitt, OG, Wisconsin

2011 SEAHAWKS FOURTH ROUND

K.J. Wright, OLB, Mississippi State

Pick: 2nd in the round, 99th overall

Pertinent information: 6-3, 246; 21, born July 23, 1989; played strong-side his first three seasons before moving to the weak-side last season, when he had a career-high 98 tackles; got the call from the Seahawks while he was in line at the Mississippi State graduation.

What he brings: Athletic ability, versatility and football smarts. After playing with basically four linebackers last season – Lofa Tatupu, David Hawthorne, Aaron Curry and Will Herring – the Seahawks needed depth.

Where he fits: Could be a Swiss Army knife of a ’backer, because of his ability to play the run, drop into coverage and also rush the passer.

What they’re saying: “I’ll remind you guys that we played Brian Cushing at ‘Leo’ at SC and we played Clay Matthews at ‘Leo’ at SC, as well. K.J.’s got a chance to be that guy, too. So that gives him a chance to, really we’re going to play him at (strong-side), we’re going to look at him at the ‘Leo’ spot and we’ll also see what he can do in nickel as a cover linebacker. … He’s a very unique player and we need that flexibility.” – coach Pete Carroll

What he’s saying: “First of all, I’m real smart. I’m a student of the game. I really study film. I’m a sure tackler. I rarely miss tackles, if you watch me on film. My length helps me out a lot. I’m just an overall college football player. I can cover real good, too.” – Wright, when asked for the best aspect of his game

Kris Durham, WR, Georgia

Pick: 10th in the round, 107th overall

Pertinent information: 6-5, 216; 23, born March 17, 1988; his brother-in-law, Blake Wood, is a pitcher for the Kansas City Royals.

What he brings: A big body to complement leading receiver Mike Williams, and fill Williams’ spot when needed. In addition to his large frame, Durham has an even larger catching radius.

Where he fits: Could really help in the red zone, because of his size, ability to shield defenders and go up and get the ball.

What they’re saying: “There were different receivers on the board. We liked Chris because he’s 6-5 and we wanted another big guy to give us the affect Mike gives us out there. So we saw him in a very special way.” – Carroll

What he’s saying: “I try to take what I see is good in all receivers, and paint that into my game. You can watch guys like Calvin Johnson and the way he uses his body and his size and everything like that. Then you have Jerry Rice, the way he got in and out of his breaks. There’s a lot of receivers that I’ve watched, and I try to see how they did it and I try to implement that into my game.” – Durham, when asked for someone he compares his skills to

2011 SEAHAWKS FIFTH ROUND

Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford

Pick: 23rd in the round, 154th overall

Pertinent information: 6-3, 195; 23, born March 30, 1988; went to Stanford as a wide receiver and moved to safety during spring drills in 2009; also compete in track and field for the Cardinal, with a personal best of 50 feet in the triple jump.

What he brings: General manager John Schneider has wanted to get bigger at the cornerback position since he walked in the door last year. Sherman fits that criteria, and also has the skills to play press coverage.

Where he fits: Could become a starter, sooner rather than later, because of his unique combination of size and skills. There’s Marcus Trufant, the incumbent starter on the left side. There’s Walter Thurmond, last year’s fourth-round draft choice who is the likely replacement for Kelly Jennings on the right side. But Sherman will be a factor in the nickel and dime packages, if not a candidate for an immediate starting spot.

What they’re saying: “This is a big, tall, long, athletic kid. I’ve known this kid since he was in high school. I know what his background is. I know his smarts, and his attitude and all that. He’s a wonderful kid that can play for us.” – Carroll

What he’s saying: “I wanted to make a statement to my city. I’m from Compton, and it’s hard for people to understand that you can be an athlete and have high academic standards and achieve high academic things. So I really wanted to make that known to people that you can go to Stanford from Compton.” – Sherman, on why he chose Stanford over USC, and then-coach Carroll

Mark LeGree, FS, Appalachian State

Pick: 25th in the round, 156th overall

Pertinent information: 6-0, 211; 21, born July 8, 1989; led the nation with 10 interceptions in 2008, and finished with 22 for his career; part of a 28-member graduating class at Pacelli Catholic High School in Columbus, Ga.

What he brings: Versatility and playmaking ability at a position where the Seahawks can use both, not to mention some depth.

Where he fits: LeGree was a centerfielder of a free safety in college, but also has the toughness to slide to strong safety – where unsigned Lawyer Milloy is the incumbent starter and untested Kam Chancellor is the best bet to replace him. But LeGree also could play free safety in the nickel, so the coaches can take advantage of Earl Thomas’ coverage skills in another role.

What they’re saying: “We love that this guy is a playmaker. Very few guys have intercepted 20-something balls in their college career.” – Carroll

What he’s saying: “They were the only team that brought me in for a formal visit, and that meant a lot to me. I just felt like they were the most interested.” – LeGree, on the Seahawks

2011 SEAHAWKS SIXTH ROUND

Bryon Maxwell, CB, Clemson

Pick: 8th in the round, 173rd overall

Pertinent information: 6-0, 207; 23, born Feb. 23, 1988; tied a school record by playing in 53 games, but only started last season; graduated in 2010 with a degree in sociology.

What he brings: More size – if not as much as Sherman – at a spot where the Seahawks have been longing for it. Like Sherman, Maxwell has the skills to play press coverage.

Where he fits: Another bigger, physical body to throw into the mix at what will be a much more competitive situation at cornerback.

What they’re saying: “Byron is a big, stud corner who makes hits and tackles, that plays very well at the line of scrimmage.” – Carroll

What he’s saying: “That’s basically what you do at Clemson. If you can’t play press, you can’t play at Clemson.” – Maxwell, when asked about playing press coverage

2011 SEAHAWKS SEVENTH ROUND

Pep Levingston, DE, LSU

Pick: 2nd in the round, 205th overall

Pertinent information: 6-3, 292; 23, born Nov. 16, 1987; two-year starter at LSU, playing end in 2009 and tackle last season; played behind eventual first-round draft choice Tyson Jackson as a sophomore; graduated in 2010 with a degree in general studies; given name is Lazarius Cortez.

What he brings: A big body and the versatility to work in the rotation at the three-technique tackle spot and the five-technique end position.

Where he fits: At the one two-way spot the Seahawks had yet to address in the draft. They needed a backup for Red Bryant at the five-technique end position and he also provides some depth at tackle, another need area.

What they’re saying: “He has been a defensive end, primarily, but we think he can play both (end and tackle).” – Carroll

What he’s saying: “I go by Pep. My uncle, he gave me that name when I was little kid. I was always hyperactive, so he said I had a lot of pep in my step. So the name just stuck with me.” – Levingston, on how he got the nickname that has become his name

Malcolm Smith, OLB, USC

Pick: 41st in the round, 242nd overall

Pertinent information: 6-0, 226; 21, born July 5, 1989; younger brother of Steve Smith, who also played at USC and now is with the New York Giants; started on the weak-side in 2009, and had 15 tackles against UCLA.

What he brings: A total package that could deliver diverse benefits, especially as a compensatory pick in the last round. He has run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, but also can hit and has instincts.

Where he fits: As with Wright, Smith provides depth at a position where it is needed, and the versatility to allow the coaches to find ways to use him.

What they’re saying: “This is one of the best athletes at his position in the draft. … He’s a running, hitting guy that has got instincts, he has great athleticism. He’s a running back playing linebacker.” – Carroll, on a player he recruited to and then coached at USC

What he’s saying: “I feel like I am almost back to where I was before. I was at a place where it was really hard for me to do things. But where I am now I am just grateful that there is medical processes like that, or else it could have affected my development.” – Smith, who was treated for achalasia, a rare disease of the esophagus that hinders swallowing