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When it comes to coverage tackles, Farwell’s got it covered

Posted Oct 12, 2012

Heath Farwell is to the Seahawks’ special teams what Marshawn Lynch and Earl Thomas are to the offense and defense – a follow-me leader who leads by impressive example.

Earlier this season, while discussing the prowess of the Seahawks’ special teams, Heath Farwell joked that the other members of the coverage units were playing so well that he couldn’t even get a tackle.

But somehow, someway, Farwell has managed to get his – and help the team.

Entering Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots at CenturyLink Field, Farwell leads the Seahawks with five special teams tackles. That should not be surprising, because he led the league with 21 last season despite not joining the Seahawks until mid-October and in 2009 he was voted the special teams player on the NFC Pro Bowl squad while playing for the Minnesota Vikings.

A linebacker at San Diego State – and a productive one, at that – Farwell earned a roster spot with the Vikings in 2005 because of his ability to not only play but excel on special teams. And he’s still doing just that eight seasons later.

Heath Farwell“I’ve just found a niche, and found a way to stick around in this league,” Farwell said. “I just enjoy playing special teams. Playing special teams is all about playing hard, playing with passion, playing with effort. It seems to work out OK for me.”

To say the least. Before the season, his teammates voted Farwell a special teams co-captain along with Michael Robinson, a Pro Bowl fullback when he not screaming down the field covering kicks.

Farwell is a linebacker from Southern California who played his college ball in the Southwest corner of the football nation. Robinson is from Richmond, Va., and was a quarterback at Penn State before also earning his entry into the NFL – also with another team, the San Francisco 49ers – by playing special teams.

But these opposites from opposite sides of the country have found a common attraction – and attachment – as members of the Seahawks’ No. 2-ranked special teams.

“I love just talking ball with Heath,” Robinson said. “Because we can communicate on the field so well, because he’s seen so many looks, I’ve seen so many looks. Just to be able to come to somebody like that and talk special teams and have that conversation, we’re able to make a lot of adjustments on the sideline.”

Farwell seconds that notion.

“Mike Rob is so talented, obviously, at fullback, but his ability to be a leader on special teams and just his knowledge of special teams is second to none,” Farwell said. “He’s unbelievable. To be able to bounce things off him – What kind of block are you getting? What kind of block am I getting? – it kind of helps us both out.”

But what is it about Farwell that allows him to continue whirling down the field and flinging himself into situations where a wiser head might think twice before doing it?

“I have no clue, man,” Robinson said, shaking his head. “The man is a worker. He’s a student of the game. He has a unique gift for it. Some guys just do.”

Farwell definitely is one of those guys – maybe the poster guy for playing special teams, where want-to trumps can-do and toughness obliterates finesse.

“Heath is just a pro, the way he prepares,” said safety Chris Maragos, who is second on the team with four coverage tackles. “He’s got a great feel for things. He’s very natural. He really knows how to use his strengths to his advantage.”

Maragos can appreciate what Farwell has done, because he’s doing the same thing by earning a roster spot the past two seasons with his special teams play.

“Like I said, he’s just a pro,” Maragos said. “So he’s a great guy to have around to watch him and see how he does things and how he prepares.

“He’ll get the pictures on the sideline and immediately dissects it exactly right. He says, ‘OK, they’ll probably have this return off of this.’ Or, ‘They could have a bounce look off that.’ Because he can read blocks and understand who’s coming and from where, it allows him to play really fast.”Heath Farwell

A perfect example of what Maragos was talking about happened in the Week 4 game against the Rams in St. Louis. The Rams had their main kickoff returner up, with a second returner deep.

“On the field, Heath altered everybody, ‘Hey, watch the reverse,’ ” special teams coordinator Brian Schneider said. “Sure enough, they did a reverse and Heath made the tackle on the 5-yard line.”

Just Farwell being Farwell.

“It starts with his preparation. Heath is just so into it,” Schneider said. “He does all the film study. It’s so important to him. And the way he prepares comes out in the way he practices, and the way he practices comes out in the way he plays.”

Which is: Finely focused, despite the whirl of bodies and activity surrounding him.

“Heath has had so much experience with it,” Schneider said. “When you look at special teams, it’s hard for rookies to get in there – especially if they haven’t done it a lot – because it’s just a different deal. We try to drill as much as we can to put them into positions to be successful.

“But you have to do it live and in games, and that’s where Heath is so valuable. He’s done it for so long.”

And he’s still doing it, and helping others do it – even if they do take “his” tackles.

“This has been so much fun coaching,” Schneider said. “You’ve got Heath, and Mike Rob, and Maragos – all these guys who have played a lot. They bringing along the young guys. And the communication is so cool, because they can tell me exactly what happened. And that’s exactly what happened.

“So we’re able to adjust during the game. We’ll see the pictures and talk about. It’s just a cool dynamic.”

And no one has been more dynamic that Heath Farewell. Still. After all these years, and all those coverage tackles.