Last season there were some serious issues with Defensive Backs for Seattle. The Kam Chancellor holdout lead to Deion Bailey falling down in Week 1 against the Rams to allow the Touchdown that tied the game and sent it to an overtime that Seattle would eventually lose. In that same Week 1 game Cary Williams had a sack, strip, scoop and score….and then proceeded to spend the next several weeks earning his eventual release. 2015 was not kind to the Legion of Boom.
In 2016 there are a number of contenders for the starting Cornerback spot across from Richard Sherman. There is also a look at a set of nickel packages using a box Safety in place of a linebacker, much like what Arizona has been doing. There are some intriguing roster battles here, and the team will be looking to keep a few different skill sets around.
This off season the Seahawks were expected to be in the market for an upgrade at CB after the aforementioned failed Cary Williams experiment. Instead they resigned Jeremy Lane, who missed most of 2015 recovering from injuries sustained in the 2014 Super Bowl, and DeShawn Shead, a converted Safety who capably held down the CB role after Williams was let go. They brought Brandon Browner back as well after a miserable year in New Orleans, but that is more to play that hybrid Safety/Linebacker spot than to compete for playing time on the outside. Additionally, the much raved about Therold Simon is once again coming back off of injury and this coaching staff has repeatedly talked about how hyped they are on the kid.
So what did all of this translate to in Week 1 of the Preseason? Well, first we need to take a look at the fact that the team Seattle played was a Kansas City Chiefs team that may have Jeremy Maclin, but was without TE Travis Kelce, so pass catching talent was limited at all points on their depth chart. Jeremy Lane was up and down all game, making some mistakes in both Defense and Special Teams getting his hands into the face mask. Therold Simon looked a bit rusty, playing solid coverage the first few drives before getting beat deep on a pass in the 3rd Quarter and getting grabby. DeShawn Shead looked the most solid out of the three, but that is because that is who he is. Shead played a typical Shead game, keeping with receivers just enough to prevent them from running past him on deep routes, closing well on shallow routes, and while not making big plays he was there to challenge the receiver and/or make the tackle every time. A few others like Marcus Burley also saw time in the game, but none of them are really in contention for the starting or slot corner spots. Of Marcus Burley, Tye Smith, Trovon Reed, and Deandre Elliott it is unlikely we’ll see more than one or possibly two of them stick on the roster after final cuts.
Brandon Browner may not be in discussion for a starting CB spot, but his roster spot does impact things. Browner was very active in the game against Kansas City, especially against the run. If he offers some solid coverage this would be an interesting way of keeping size on the field while improving a weak spot on the Seattle Defense where the last few years they’ve had trouble covering TEs, Slot Receivers, and Runningbacks over the middle. Browner my not be a plus cover corner these days, but he is good at man and zone for a Linebacker. Something else interesting emerged here too though, and that is a 6’3 UDFA out of Ohio State by the name of Tyvis Powell. Powell spent time on basically every Special Teams unit as well as seeing action in the 4th Quarter at Strong Safety and a little Cornerback. What did he do? He just laid down hits that Kansas City players are still feeling today and picked off a pass to help turn momentum for the eventual comeback win. He also has the size and athleticism to challenge for this spot, and we have see before that Pete Carroll has no problem letting a veteran go if a kid shows he can do the job (sorry Matt Flynn).
For this Thursday Night Preseason Week 2 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, we have a team that has a bit more receiver depth and a QB in Teddy Bridgewater that they likely want to see a bit of an extended look at, as well as a good run game that makes the in the box hybrid safety position likely to see the field quite a bit. That means it is a good chance for the Seahawks to find out a lot about the two roster battles being waged.
At Cornerback look for Simon to possibly get a look with the first team as they try to figure out exactly what they have in him. He’s only played 2 games in the last 2 seasons, and he has always flashed brilliance with bone headed mistakes and breakdowns. The big thing for Simon is to limit mistakes and penalties while still having some potential to make the big play. For DeShawn Shead, it is the opposite. Shead is Mr. Reliable, but if he shows some better ball skills it would really make him look more like a difference maker instead of a role player. That being said, just being steady is enough to keep him on the roster. Jeremy Lane needs to shake off the rust. He has the best combination of experience and ability out of the three, and if he can put it together the next few games he could win the job. If not, Simon is terrible in the slot so he is battling Shead for those snaps. For all 3 of them, they need to show they can play the crossing routes. Lane and Shead looked especially good coming back on shallow routes, but all three were torched on crossing routes by Kansas City that are a staple of NFL Offenses. They need to make an improvement.
Marcus Burley, Tye Smith, Trovon Reed, and Deandre Elliott need to make a move. The four of them should be fighting like there is only one roster spot left, and none of them have distinguished themselves yet. Burley is a slot corner who lacks the size to play on the outside, but he has experience. Smith, Reed, and Elliott are all 6′ and over, with Smith having spent some time with Seattle already and likely knowing the Defense a bit better. I’d say Smith likely has the inside track and Elliott could get the last spot or possibly the team will look to slip him onto the Practice Squad.
Brandon Browner’s roster spot is far from a sure thing. If Shead isn’t starting outside at corner, he has the size to play this role and better coverage skills. Perhaps even more interesting is that rookie Tyvis Powell, who I was thrilled we got as a UDFA seeing as in moy opinion he is more talented than a number of DBs who were drafted. He could be the next great UDFA and he has the size at 6’3 to play this role, as well as the coverage skills (8 INTs, 9 PDs in 3 years at Ohio State) to make a push for this job. Look for Powell to get an extended look on Defense, likely playing the entire 2nd half of the game and seeing time at multiple positions. With his Special Teams play, anything that looks useful on Defense has a great chance of securing him a roster spot.