DeShawn Shead sat at his locker Wednesday afternoon lacing up a pair of football cleats with a grin on his face. Moments later, and still wearing that same smile, the Seahawks cornerback jogged from the locker room to the practice field carrying a helmet for the first time in nearly 11 months.
Shead, who tore his ACL in January's playoff loss at Atlanta and had been on the physically unable to perform list all season until now, returned to practice Wednesday, the latest and most significant step in his journey back from that knee injury. Shead's return to practice doesn't necessarily mean an immediate return to game action—the Seahawks have up to three weeks to add him to the 53-man roster—but it's a sign that he is close to being back.
"DeShawn's practicing today for the first time," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We're really fired up for that. It's been a long haul for him. Anytime you ever heard me talk about him, I would tell you he's ridiculously on it in terms of his rehab and his effort and his preparation and all of that. I'm thrilled for him to come back to practice now and have a chance. He has three weeks to show where he is and all that, and we'll take a good look at it with our fingers crossed and high hopes that he'll be able to help us out."
Like any optimist, Shead hoped he would have made it back from this injury sooner, but as is so often the case with serious injuries there were hurdles along the way, including a second procedure to clean up scar tissue during the summer, but now that he is back, last year's starting right cornerback is ready to focus on helping his team in whatever way he can.
"You know me, I was trying to get back the first game of the season," Shead said. "But I just trusted the process and took it day by day. These injuries, you never know. I thought I was going to be back the first game of the regular season. That's me being optimistic, that's my mindset. But it's a day-to-day grind. My whole mindset is take it day-by-day and keep grinding and trust the process."
Shead knows he can't expect to jump right into his old starting job without earning whatever playing time he gets. The Seahawks drafted Shaquill Griffin in the third round this year and the rookie has since taken over the starting job at right corner, and Byron Maxwell returned to Seattle following Richard Sherman's season ending injury, and has since become the starter on the left side. But for a player who went undrafted out of Portland State and spent the better part of two seasons on the practice squad, only to become an eventual starter, proving himself is nothing new to Shead.
Photos from Wednesday's practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center as the Seahawks ready for their Week 14 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars at Everbank Field.
And regardless of how things shake out in the secondary in terms of starting jobs in the immediate future, getting Shead back would be big in terms of depth even if he doesn't go back to a starting role. Shead has shown the versatility to play outside and in the slot as a cornerback, and has also started at strong safety and practiced at both safety spots. He was also one of Seattle's best special teams players prior to having that role reduced when he became a fulltime starter last season.
"I hope to come back and just be as much of a factor as I was before," Shead said. "A lot of people got banged up, but a lot of guys are out there doing great. I'm just ready to get back out there and help this team as much as possible, anywhere needed. I expect to earn my spot back, I expect to earn my way back on the field. Nothing was ever given to me, so that's what I know. I plan to go prove myself again and earn going back out there and help this team win games."
Shead's return to action will also be meaningful for him because at one point this offseason, there were no guarantees he would put on a Seahawks uniform again. Shead was a free agent for a bit last offseason, and had discussions with at least one other team, but ultimately wanted return to the only NFL team he has known.
"Ultimately I wanted to be right here with my brothers," he said. "I've been here since my rookie year, and I wanted to be here with my brothers and come back to battle with them.
Shead said re-signing with Seattle "meant a lot. It means they have a lot of trust in me. They know what type of person I am, they knew I was going to attack this process 110 percent and take it as another challenge to come back and be better than I was before. It means a lot to me that they know who I am and they know I'm going to come back and come back better than the way I left. For them to trust me and give me the deal they did, I'm not going down let them down."
Team photographer Rod Mar shares exclusive behind-the-scenes images from the Seahawks' 24-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles during Week 13 on Sunday Night Football at CenturyLink Field.