If it feels like you've been reading a lot about DeShawn Shead this season, well, that's because he keeps doing different things to add to a rather remarkable breakout year.
Back in offseason workouts, Shead was working with the first-team defense at free safety, filling in for Earl Thomas, who was recovering from shoulder surgery. Then in camp Shead battled for the starting strong safety job in Kam Chancellor's absence, and while he didn't win that competition, he ended up playing left cornerback in the season opener when Richard Sherman moved into the slot when the Seahawks were in their nickel defense.
In Week 2, Shead was the starting strong safety, then after Marcus Burley broke his thumb, Shead became Seattle's nickel defensive back for the next six games. And last week, Shead's role changed yet again when he beat out Cary Williams for the starting job at right cornerback. So to recap, Shead, who before this season had primarily played only on special teams, has been a starting strong safety, seen significant snaps at left corner, been the nickel corner, and now the starting right corner, all after spending offseason workouts at free safety. Oh, and he's also still one of the team's leaders in special teams playing time.
"He's doing a fantastic job," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I mean there's very few guys that are able to do that. He's been a great member of this team. He does everything you ask of him, he has been a great worker. They guys are really excited for him. There's another guy, he steps up for the opportunity. He comes through in a big way and the guys really rally around him. He's just one of our guys dyed in the wool of being a Seahawk. So the fact that he gets that opportunity and comes through in such a big way just speaks to the kind of player he is, the kind of kid he is, and his dedication to the game, and really dedication to being a great teammate too. He really is that."
Shead, who went undrafted out of Portland State in 2012 and spent most of his first two seasons on the practice squad, might have had his best game following his latest position switch. In a game in which the Steelers came out firing his direction, Shead had four passes defensed, including one on a deep ball near the goal line and another that resulted in a Kam Chancellor interception, and made 10 tackles.
"He's a jack of all trades," defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. "Truly invaluable in regards to all that he does to us, whether it's safety, whether it's corner, whether it's nickel. He's a guy who keeps himself prepared. He's a guy who keeps himself in tip top shape, so we know we can rely on him when we need him."
"I thought he played really well. For a guy who went out there his first time, he knew a target was going to be on his back, and you're talking about one of the premiere wide receivers in regards of going deep and them just throwing the football up. He played one game, he had four pass breakups in it. That's remarkable."
Shead didn't necessarily expect to play such a big role on defense this season, but he prepared as if he would anyway, which is what paved the way for him to play four different defensive back spots in Seattle's first 11 games.
"What I did anticipate was just to be ready for whatever happens," said Shead, who played three years of cornerback in college before moving to safety as a senior. "I have played corner, I have played free safety and strong safety—I've never played nickel, this is my first year playing nickel—but I try to stay ready for any situation. So I didn't anticipate it, but because I was ready, I wasn't shocked being thrown into these situations; I was ready to just go out here and play defense."
There are no guarantees that Shead will remain the starter at right corner for the rest of the season, but his performance against Pittsburgh showed his teammates they can trust him to come through at yet another position.
"He plays every position," safety Earl Thomas said. "He has a lot of confidence in himself and we have a lot of confidence in him as well. Just to see him go out there and shine like that, it's just giving me confidence in him. Playing at middle field, you have to trust both of your corners, because they're asked to do a lot. He held up. He made some big, big plays. Hopefully that give him a lot of confidence going forward."
Coaches and teammates enjoy seeing Shead succeed not just because he is helping the team, but also because, like so many other players on the Seahawks roster, he fought an uphill battle to get this far. Shead wasn't heavily recruited out of high school—hence Portland State—then went undrafted, only spend the better part of two seasons on the practice squad. On a team with undrafted free agents contributing all over the field, Shead's story isn't entirely unique, but it's still an easy one to get behind.
"You love the story," Richard said. "You absolutely love the story, because it's a testament to the commitment of faith, of trust, and preparation. He's always kept himself ready. You're talking about a guy two years ago wasn't on our team, was on the practice squad. Then he stepped into the Super Bowl, he played some reps in the Super Bowl, then kind of took off after that. He's been a backup for us, he's been a role player for us, and he's kind of just waited, and got hardened by it all is really what it is. Not to the fact that where he got bitter or anything, but he just kind of figured out how the NFL works, and when you get your opportunity how you have to seize it."
And however long this opportunity lasts, it's one that Shead won't take for granted.
"It definitely means a lot," he said. " It's definitely a blessing first and foremost to have the opportunity to go out there and not only play one position, but multiple positions, and have the opportunity to play Seahawk football. Just to have these coaches believe in me is a great feeling, it gives me confidence for them to have trust in me. I'm just trying to go out there and keep doing my job and staying on top.
"One way or another, hard work pays off, I'm a big believer in that, and it's finally paying off. I'm definitely grateful for the opportunity and I'm just trying to make the best of it."
As for what might be Shead's best fit going forward, Richard gives the only appropriate answer for one of the team's most versatile players: "Wherever he wants to. It's kind of one of those deals where your parents tell you growing up, 'You can do anything you set your mind to.' Well he can."