Dare I say, after a year wandering in the wilderness of mediocrity, the Legion of Boom will be back with a vengeance in 2016?
Look, nothing is ever going to compare to that 2013 defense. From top to bottom, it’s a Once In A Generation feat of youth, talent, depth, and achievement. You can have all the youth, talent, and depth that you want, but if they don’t go out there and produce, then you’ve just got a lot of potential that failed to make good. That 2013 defense MADE good, and then some.
If we just focus on the secondary of that team, a lot of the usual suspects show up: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman. We had Brandon Browner still in his prime, before the emergence of Byron Maxwell at season’s end. We had Walter Thurmond as our primary nickel corner, with Jeremy Lane so far down the depth chart you could barely see him outside of special teams. Chris Maragos was a backup safety and special teams standout. Jeron Johnson also filled out our depth, with DeShawn Shead but a lowly rookie. When you talk about murderer’s rows, the 2013 version of the L.O.B. is the epitome. It’s never been as good, and might not ever be again.
Losing Thurmond, Browner, and Maragos deprived us of that good, good depth in 2014, but with Maxwell as a full time starter, the talent was still there, and there really wasn’t much of a dropoff at all in achievement. The 2014 defense still led this team to the Super Bowl, and still led the league in most important categories.
In 2015, there was a significant set-back in achievement, as Maxwell got a max deal with the Eagles, Jeron Johnson found a home in Washington D.C., and the likes of Cary Williams came in to start opposite Richard Sherman (with the likes of Dion Bailey, Steven Terrell, and Kelcie McCray trying to hold the fort). Ultimately, Williams was replaced by Shead, and then Lane upon his return from significant injury, and the defense somewhat stabilized for the stretch run. It ultimately wasn’t enough to get us back to a third straight Super Bowl, but one could argue the team was sufficiently set back at the start of the season, when Lane was out, Williams was a big part of the plan, and Kam’s holdout cost us at least one if not two games in the first two weeks of the regular season. Win those games, and a couple others along the way (where secondary breakdowns led to comeback victories for Seahawks opponents), and maybe the Seahawks play host in those NFC playoff games instead of road warriors who would be cut down by the eventual NFC champs.
I don’t remember what I deemed to be the primary reason for this team’s shortcomings in 2015, but the more I think about it, the more I think that this team is nothing without its dominant secondary. And, the more I look at this roster as it’s currently constructed, the more I like what we have on paper going into 2016.
Again, we have the usual suspects: Earl, Kam, Sherm. Presumably, the Seahawks will figure out a way to keep Kam happy and motivated, so until I hear otherwise, let’s just accept that as a given. The re-signing of Jeremy Lane solidifies what was a significant weakness for this team last year. Paired with him, we have the return of Shead, both of whom are interchangeable in that they can play outside or inside. And, back from injury, and in a contract year, we have Tharold Simon. I know what you’re saying, how can we count on the guy? He’s been injured every year of his professional career! Granted, but the kid still has talent. And, more importantly, we’re not counting on him to be a starter. If he comes in and wows us in the pre-season, then great! I’m sure that will translate into getting him some more playing time, allowing us to push Lane into the nickel corner spot when the opposing offense dictates. A healthy Simon makes this secondary quite formidable; but even without him, it’s still really good.
More importantly, the depth we’ve been missing since 2013 has returned! Those three I mentioned – Lane, Simon, and Shead – could all be starters for a bunch of teams in the league, at least as far as talent is concerned. For the Seahawks, one will be a starter and the other two will be regular contributors. Beyond THAT, we’re looking at the return of Marcus Burley, who’s a solid nickel corner. We’ve also got some holdovers like Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Mohammed Seisay, George Farmer, and Douglas McNeil who all provide the prototypical size you look for in a cornerback in a Pete Carroll defense (each of them range from 6’1 to 6’3). And, that’s not even factoring in Tye Smith, a rookie from last year who was kept on the 53-man roster all along, for fear of someone snatching him from our practice squad. Obviously, if the team was willing to keep him on the 53-man, he must have the type of skills to make a huge impact for this team going forward. He looks like a prototypical nickel corner, but if you recall, he played a lot on the outside in the pre-season last year. He could be someone special, if given the chance.
And all of those guys are just corners! Don’t forget the safety position, where we have two of the best in Earl and Kam as our starters. Behind them, Kelcie McCray looked a lot better as the season went on and he got more comfortable in our scheme. Remember, we traded for him near the end of the pre-season, so now he will have had a full year and a full offseason to get acclimated to what we’re doing. Match him up with Steven Terrell – who now has two full years in our system backing up Earl – and there’s a lot to like about what we’ve got heading into this season.
A lot of these guys will be special teamers, some of these guys won’t even make the roster, but I’m pretty secure in my opinion that this will be the best secondary as a unit we will have had since the 2013 season. If we can manage to get the pass rush up to snuff, to help these guys out a little more, we could be looking at a year of huge turnover numbers out of these guys. And, let us not forget, we’ve still got the NFL draft coming up at the end of April. Who knows if some stud will fall to us, or if we pluck another diamond from the later rounds? I could be writing an even more glowing post about the secondary the closer we get to the regular season!