DeShawn Shead is hard to track down in the Seahawks locker room these days. During the window open to the media prior to practice, Shead is rarely at his locker, not because he is ducking the media, but rather because he ramped up his preparation a bit this season.
During the window between the team's walkthrough and afternoon practice, Shead has added some extra stretching with assistant strength and conditioning coach Mondray Gee as well as extra film sessions, including study of that day's walkthrough. Shead does this not only because he is a fulltime starter for the first time in his NFL career, but also because he knows that, as the cornerback who plays opposite All-Pro Richard Sherman, he needs to be ready to be tested by opponents.
"Every game has its own challenges, and just to go out there prepare for each game—each team, has something new and something different, so it's never the same—it's great to just constantly work on my craft and play with my brothers," Shead said. "That's the best part of it, just playing with my brothers."
And when one of your brothers is widely regarded as one of the best cornerbacks in the game, that means you're going to have a lot of passes thrown in your direction. Shead knows he won't be perfect this season, but he has held up very well to teams targeting him frequently. His team-high eight passes defensed are a sign not just of how well he's playing, but also of how often teams have targeted him rather than take their chances with Sherman.
"When you have one of the best to ever play the game on one side of the field, I anticipate teams coming at me a lot, so I try to do my best job of eliminating some of those passes," said Shead, who began his career on Seattle's practice squad in 2012 after going undrafted out of Portland State. "In this league, you have to have that short memory as a corner. They game-plan for us as well, they know some of our tendencies and we know theirs, so sometimes they're going to catch the ball, but you've got to have that short-term memory, because there's going to be another play. There's always that next play you've got to worry about. Whether you make a great play, an interception, a forced fumble, it's the same thing, you've got to go out there and line up and do it again. That's the life of a DB."
As Shead notes, he's not going to stop every pass thrown his way—NFL quarterbacks and receivers are too talented to shut down completely, especially if they keep targeting his side of the field to avoid Sherman—but he has shown he is up to the challenge. Multiple times this season, Shead has come up with pass breakups in big moments, whether it was on third down of Atlanta's final possession last week, or on a third-down pass down the sideline in the second half of Seattle's Week 4 win over the Jets while the Seahawks were still protecting a one-score lead.
"He wouldn't have it any other way," Sherman said of teams testing Shead. "And it's great for later on down the line when we run into these situations again, because he's getting the full experience, the full breadth of playing game in and game out and understanding the different matchups you're going to have deal with, the different situations you're going to be put in. And he's standing up, he's doing a great job. He's understanding that you worry about the next play, he's tackling well, you can't say enough great things about well he's playing. He's really solidifying our defense along with Jeremy Lane. Jeremy Lane is playing fantastic football."
A day after Shead had three passes defensed against the Falcons, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll noted that Shead "played really well yesterday. The plays that he wasn't able to make, he was close to and was strictly on it. The crossing route he was all over, another route they caught underneath him he was right on it. He's doing really well. I don't know how the numbers work out, but he is really holding up his end. I think he's playing great."
Asked if it takes a special mental makeup to be a cornerback who is tested frequently by teams trying to stay away from Sherman, Carroll said, "Heck yeah it does, because you know you're getting the ball thrown at you, and there have been a lot of guys who don't hold up. We've been very fortunate over the years that the guys on that side have been able to play and do a nice job, because they're going to get a lot of activity, that's just kind of built in."
While Shead is a full-time starter for the first time in his career, his success this season is anything but a surprise to teammates who watched him work his way up from the practice squad in 2012 and 2013, to becoming a key contributor on special teams the past two seasons, to earning more playing time on defense and six starts last season before winning the starting job at right cornerback this year.
"DeShawn Shead, that's what I've seen," receiver Doug Baldwin said. "He has been doing this for a long time. Obviously the intricacies of playing corner, he's developed over time working with guys like Sherman, like Earl Thomas, like Kam Chancellor with the great leaders that he has back there. But he has really done all the work. He's done his due diligence to put himself in a position to be competitive at that spot day in and day out. It was no surprise to us to see how well he's been doing, because he's put in the work. He's one of those guys that just exudes his passion on every play. He just wants to do good for his team and, obviously for himself as well, but when you get around those guys that exude that passion, you know they're going to do well, because there nothing that's going to stop them from excelling."