Hyped Seahawks secondary ready for season debut

Hyped Seahawks secondary ready for season debut
Seattle Seahawks defensive back Earl Thomas (29) runs for a touchdown after an interception during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo., Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
RENTON, Wash. (AP) - Earl Thomas was expected to be great. That's why the Seattle Seahawks spent a first-round pick in 2010 on the speedy safety.

Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner? They were all afterthoughts, bypassed by one team or another at some point in their careers because they didn't fit a specific framework.

But the Seahawks took a gamble on each of the three and, along with Thomas, they have made Seattle's secondary one of the best units in the NFL.

They're young, fast, aggressive and confident. The recognition they have received for how well they played last season is something they accept, but realized it's a burden they'll need to live up to starting with Sunday's opener at Arizona.

"With us, I just think we're trying to be the best," Thomas said. "We compete with each other. We hold each other accountable and when you do that the bar is set high. We're going to play at a high level and we trust our preparation to go out there and ball."

By the end of last season the foursome was the most acclaimed group among Seattle's young and improving defense. Browner, Thomas and Chancellor all ended up playing in the Pro Bowl and Sherman might have joined them if he hadn't spent the first half of the season as a backup.

They've all found a home and success in Seattle because head coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley have designed a scheme that fits entirely around the strengths of each. Thomas has rare speed that makes up for a lack of bulk and allows him to cover huge amounts of real estate in the back end.

Because of Thomas' speed, the Seahawks can have Browner and Sherman play aggressive press coverage on receivers, making it difficult for them to get off the line of scrimmage or run proper routes. Browner is a mauler, which got him in trouble with penalties last season, but Seattle is willing to live with those for what he brings otherwise.

And when Seattle needs a thump from a defensive back, it comes from Chancellor, who at 6-foot-3, 232 pounds has the frame of a linebacker.

While Thomas was a first-round pick, the rest ended up in Seattle either as the result of good scouting or luck. Browner went to the CFL after he was bypassed by NFL teams coming out of Oregon State. Only a fortunate tryout with the Seahawks opened Carroll's eyes to what Browner could bring.

Sherman and Chancellor were each fifth-round selections a year apart. Chancellor spent almost the entire 2010 season learning behind veteran Lawyer Milloy before taking over the job at the start of 2011. Sherman had just a couple of years playing cornerback after starting his career at Stanford as a wide receiver. The switch paid off and when injuries thinned the Seahawks secondary early last season, Sherman was forced to step forward.

"We look at it like we're still a bunch of nobodies," Sherman said. "To one another we're a bunch of nobodies going out there and grinding it out every day."

While their aggressive play got much of the attention last season, the reason Seattle's pass defense got so much better was that they were no longer allowing the big play. In 2010, the Seahawks were bitten by 60 pass plays of 20 yards or more, the second-highest total in the NFL. Last year, they gave up just 43 pass plays of 20 yards or more, tied for the second-lowest total in the NFL.

It was a dramatic turnaround, but one of the biggest keys why Seattle's defense was significantly better last season. They will get tested early this season to see if there's a carry-over. After opening against the Cardinals, they host Dallas and Green Bay.

"I'm kind of anxious to see how this thing turns out," Chancellor said. "We played pretty well in the preseason but you can't really count the preseason. Everybody kind of turns their game up in the regular season. I'm curious to see how we do."