If there was any doubt left that DeShawn Shead was fully recovered from the knee injury that caused him to miss almost all of the 2017 season, it was erased by the 88-yard sprint he made down the sideline at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll noted that Shead looked much different in his July workout prior to signing with the team than he did after coming back late in the 2017 season. And since re-signing with the Seahawks early in camp, Shead has said that the knee he injured in a playoff game following the 2016 season is better than ever. On Sunday night, he showed it, not just by returning an interception nearly the length of the field for a score, but by playing 54 defensive snaps, the most of any Seahawks player.
"It's good to go out there and just play normal and feel normal, not worry about any injury," said Shead. "Just go out there and play the game."
Shead, who began his career with Seattle as an undrafted free agent in 2012, worked his way from the practice squad to backup defensive back and special teams standout, to starting right cornerback. Then after becoming a starter, he tore his ACL in a playoff loss in Atlanta, causing him to miss most of the 2017 season, then play 2018 in Detroit at something less than full strength. He's back with Seattle after one year with the Lions, working as a backup safety, and while he knows he'll have to continue competing for a spot on the team, for now he is just enjoying being back where he spent the first six seasons of his career.
"It's been fun just to be here, back grinding and competing with this team," Shead said. "Just to go out there and play again with this squad, I'm grateful. I'm grateful for the opportunity."
The reaction to Shead scoring in a preseason game, both in the form of his teammates running from the sideline to celebrate with him, and in the tweets sent out by former teammates moments after the score, helped illustrate how popular of a player Shead has been in Seattle's locker room over the years. From spending most of two seasons on the practice squad to becoming a special teams captain and a starter at cornerback opposite Richard Sherman, Shead made himself into a fan and locker-room favorite despite his humble beginnings as an undrafted rookie from Portland State.
"It's been awesome just to see Shead make his plays," said quarterback Russell Wilson, one of the players who ran from the sideline to celebrate with Shead. "He's always been a playmaker, and he's always been a great leader for us… He's finally fully healthy, he's finally feeling great, his confidence is high, he's doing all the right things, he's a great leader, so there's no doubt why he makes plays. We've got a lot of high character guys, and he's one of them for sure."
Shead's touchdown was his second big play of the preseason along with a sack for a safety in Seattle's preseason opener. Those plays don't guarantee him a spot on the team, but they obviously help, as does the fact that he came on the field in a dime package with the starting defense on Minnesota's first drive. Shead was also the first safety to sub into the game, replacing starting strong safety Bradley McDougald, though it's worth noting that Lano Hill, another strong safety, did not play in the game. Shead's play on special teams also makes him valuable, as does his versatility to play every position in the secondary.
"He brings us the versatility of playing safety and corner," Carroll said after the Seahawks signed Shead. "He can play in the nickel package, he's an excellent special teams player. Better than that he's a great competitor, and to have that guy battling here with our young guys and show them what it's all about will only make us better. So I'm thrilled that he's back with us."
Shead is thrilled to be back as well, having worked his way all the way into an every-down role, only to tear his ACL just when it appeared he was reaching his potential.
"I appreciate every snap," he said. "I appreciate every rep and I appreciate every opportunity. My role is to go out there and do what I can to help this team win."