Here's the thing about roster depth. Every team wants to have it, but none truly want to see it tested.
Take safety Steven Terrell, for example. The Seahawks have always liked what Terrell brings to the team, that's why he is in his third season with Seattle, but they also like having Earl Thomas make 106 straight starts, a franchise record for defensive players, rendering Terrell to a special-teams-only role most weeks. But with Thomas leaving last week's game early with a hamstring injury, and facing an uphill battle to keep that consecutive starts streak alive, Terrell has a good chance to make his first start this week.
"It would mean a lot," Terrell said of potentially making his first start. "Any role on this team is amazing, so if my role on Sunday is to go in and start, I'll be ready for that; if that's not the case, I'll still be ready to go in there and do whatever my coaches ask me to. But it would be a pretty cool thing to go in there and play. I hated to see Earl go down last game, but going in there, I felt pretty comfortable.
"Earl never comes out. He's such a competitor. I know it really hurt him to not be able to finish the game out, but we have a next-man-up, no-weak-links mentality, so I was like, 'I've got to go in there and do my job to the best of my ability.' There's no replacing Earl Thomas, but coaches are confident in me and what I can do—that's why they put me out there—so knowing that helps me play freely and play fast. I'm here for a reason, so I'm just going to go out there and do my best, and I feel like the outcome will be something I like."
The Seahawks obviously would prefer to have Thomas on the field, as well as starting cornerback DeShawn Shead, who also has a hamstring injury and is unlikely to play, according to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. http://www.seahawks.com/news/2016/11/23/its-going-be-hard-deshawn-shead-earl-thomas-play-week-and-more-injury-updates But whether or not Thomas and Shead play, the Seahawks feel good about Terrell and Neiko Thorpe—Thorpe came in as Seattle's third corner in Shead's absence with nickel corner Jeremy Lane taking over the starting role—if those two are called upon to take on bigger roles.
"We feel awesome about it," cornerback Richard Sherman said of his team's secondary depth. "They're really good players and they do a great job once they get comfortable of going in there and making plays on the ball."
If Terrell and Thorpe do indeed take on bigger roles against Tampa Bay on Sunday, it will be just the latest example of how Seattle's depth has been tested—and to this point, responded very well—when injuries arise. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has talked about how much he likes his team's depth going back to last summer, and because of injuries, the Seahawks have gotten a chance to see a lot of non-starters in prominent roles this season. Yet through it all, the Seahawks are 7-2-1 and again have the league's No. 1 scoring defense and an offense that has improved drastically over the past few weeks. Last week alone, Thorpe and DeAndre Elliott saw their first defensive playing time with the Seahawks, Terrell took over for Thomas at free safety, and rookie offensive linemen Rees Odhiambo saw playing time at left tackle in place of fellow rookie George Fant, who briefly left the game with a shoulder injury.
"This week was a really good showing for that (depth)," Carroll said. "To see Neiko jump in, and even our guys just having to move around a little to different spots and take different responsibilities. I thought it was really good. Rees jumped in at tackle and that was an excellent showing by him. Jeremy played a lot of corner play, he did a nice job himself. All of that worked out really well."
With Fant taking over at left tackle earlier this season because of an injury to Bradley Sowell, and with starting right guard Germain Ifedi missing three games, and with multiple injuries at running back, and with tight end Luke Willson missing four games, the Seahawks have had their depth tested plenty of offense, but it has been on defense where that depth has really shined. In addition to the current injuries in the secondary, the Seahawks played four games without Pro-Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor. At strongside linebacker, the Seahawks have used four different starters—Mike Morgan, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Cassius Marsh and Brock Coyle. And up front, Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett has missed four games, and will likely miss a fifth, yet the Seahawks are tied for the league lead with 31 sacks.
"I'm excited about it," Carroll said of his team's pass rush. "Frank (Clarks)'s emergence and his factor—not that he makes all the sacks—but he's such an issue for our opponents that he's helping other guys be effective. Cliff (Avril) is having a great season, Bobby (Wagner) is contributing too with pressures. I think (defensive coordinator Kris) Richard is doing a nice job of mixing our rushes and the looks for our guys to take advantage of them. Obviously we couldn't be more excited about getting Mike back in there, he factors in as well. Cassius (Marsh) has been a good contributor, too. It's a good team rush right now and that's probably why we have good number."
To some, the depth on this team is reminiscent of that on the 2013 team that went on to win Super Bowl XLVIII. That's not to say this team is guaranteed anything in the postseason, but the Seahawks do feel like they have the talent 53-deep, and not just in their starting lineup, to compete with anybody.
"Depth wise, I definitely feel great about this team," defensive end Cliff Avril said. "A lot of guys are stepping up, there's no drop-off if a starter's out of a game. That's good. That's kind of what we had the year we won the Super Bowl. Hopefully we'll keep chopping away and end up back there."
Team photographer Rod Mar shares exclusive photos from the Seattle Seahawks' 26-15 Week 11 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field.