When it comes to starting jobs, safety is not a position with a lot of mystery surrounding it in Seahawks training camp. When healthy, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, who between them have earned Pro-Bowl honors nine times and All-Pro honors six times, are not just the starters, but also two of the most important players on one of the NFL's best defenses.
But that doesn't mean safety hasn't been an interesting position during training camp. In particular, the return of Brandon Browner, who is playing safety now after being a starting cornerback in his first stint with the Seahawks, adds intrigue to the position group, as does the play of young roster hopefuls who are battling for jobs.
When it comes to Browner, he so far has mostly worked as a strong safety who is behind Chancellor and Kelcie McCray on the depth chart, but from the way coaches and teammates talk about Browner, the team has plans to get him on the field in certain situations as an extra safety, not one who takes the place of Chancellor or Thomas.
"He is working really hard at it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Browner's move to safety. "What Brandon shows you is if you give him a chance in some match up situations, he comes through, he can cover guys. He has always been a good cover guy and the way we are doing it now, he looks special. Now, he has a lot to learn, he has to learn the safety spot, as well as the stuff we do in the nickel package, and this is a lot for him. He's taking a tremendous attitude towards it, he's studying every day, he's working his tail off. It is different than the ways he has played before. It is a big distance he has to cover to really get sound in all areas, but he will hit you, he's a good sensible football player, so he makes good decisions generally, it is just a matter of time. The coverage part, there is no doubt he can do that and locking guys up and all that, he is really, really good at that."
The way Carroll and Browner have talked about it, Browner could be a player used in nickel and dime packages, particularly to match up against tight ends or bigger receivers in the slot. Those physical matchups in the box are ones Browner embraces, calling it "real football," but that doesn't mean the move is an easy one after spending his NFL career at corner up to this point. Browner said the biggest adjustment from corner to safety is the adjustments that have to be made pre-snap depending on what the offense does.
"Things rotate with the linebackers and safeties, we rotate once they shift, so those are the small things that happen between plays," Browner said. "…I like it. It suits me, my size. Guys in the box are not as fast as guys on the edge, so once I learn it and I'm playing fast, I think it'll work to my benefit."
And while there's still learning to do, Browner feels like he is adjusting well, saying, "I feel like I'm doing a lot better than when I first got here. Things are coming along slowly but surely. I think I'm doing pretty good with it though."
With a lot of attention on Browner's new role, McCray has flown a little bit under the radar in camp, but his value to the team should not be overlooked. In addition to starting three games in place of an injured Chancellor last season, McCray, who was acquired in a trade with Kansas City before the start of the 2015 season, was also a big contributor on special teams, leading the Seahawks with 12 special teams tackles. And after filling in for Chancellor last year, McCray is showing his versatility in camp this year, serving as the top backup at both free and strong safety.
"Solid as a rock," Carroll said of McCray. "He is really a good football player and we have no problem with him coming in as the third safety at either spot. Very accountable guy; does everything right. He is a fantastic special teams player, one of our leading special teams players. Yeah, Kelcie is a really nice player and we are very lucky to have him. He is a leader, he is tough, he's smart and he's very versatile, so he has a big role for us."
Behind McCray and Browner are Steven Terrell, a veteran who has appeared in 16 games over the past two seasons, primarily on special teams, and a pair of young players looking to make their mark—Keenan Lambert and Tyvis Powell. Lambert, Chancellor's half-brother who signed with Seattle as an undrafted rookie last year, then spent time with Oakland after being released by the Seahawks, re-signed last week and has already shown up in practice with some notable plays. Powell, meanwhile, signed as an undrafted rookie out of Ohio State this year and has also held his own while impressing coaches with his versatility.
"It's a great group, a lot of competition," McCray said. "We're having a lot of fun, it's really family out there with the whole defense."
Look through the best photos from the 11th day of Seahawks Training camp held at Virginia Mason Athletic Center.