Pro Bowl voting validation of Seattle's makeover
RENTON, Wash. (AP)
With one statement, Earl Thomas pointed out how promising the future could be.
''I'm 22 years old, starting the Pro Bowl,'' the Seattle free safety said Wednesday. ''It's crazy.''
What was seen initially as a rash and perhaps misguided move by Pete Carroll's staff to completely overhaul the Seahawks' secondary before the season has proved to be one of Seattle's best moves. And not just for this season that nearly went from miserable to magical, but for years ahead.
Not that Carroll needed the validation that his moves were correct, but the Pro Bowl voting reinforced the decision to make changes in the secondary. Thomas, in his second season as the free safety, was voted a starter for the Jan. 29 All-Star game, becoming the first Seattle player voted into the game since 2008.
It came in a year where Thomas actually has worse numbers in terms of interceptions than his rookie season, but where Seattle's secondary is markedly better and Thomas' role in that improvement has been noticed.
''The transformation that we've had from the beginning of the season, some guys didn't know they would be starting but due to injury now they're up. They've stepped in and we haven't missed a beat,'' Thomas said. ''That just shows how much depth we have in the future moving forward. This year was a learning experience for a lot of us.''
By the time the end of January rolls around, Thomas might not be alone in representing the Seahawks' defensive backfield. Strong safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Brandon Browner are first alternates, meaning if any player at those positions pulls out of the game, they were will be the first ones added to the NFC roster.
Along with rookie Richard Sherman, the secondary has made a complete turn from their play of a season ago. And best of all for Seattle, Browner at age 27 is the oldest of the foursome and Thomas is the only one with more than one season of experience as a starter in the NFL.
''Brandon comes out of nowhere and a first-year starter for Kam - that's a big accomplishment. So guys had to recognize what those guys did on the field this year and they've been that effective that they've been able to get past other people,'' Carroll said. ''With respect to the process and the great players that are in the league it's a big statement about this group and the future that we can look forward to with them.''
Of the current starters, Browner is the most surprising to emerge. Coming out of the Canadian Football League, Browner was picked on early in the season, most notably in Seattle's Week 2 loss at Pittsburgh. But Browner has recovered and is tied for fourth in the NFL in interceptions with six, including two returned for touchdowns. He also is tied for the league lead in passes defensed according to STATS LLC with 20.
Browner and Sherman are the mold of cornerbacks that Carroll wants to have. Browner is listed at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds, while Sherman is 6-foot-3. But even with their size, the duo has been able to lock down shorter, shiftier receivers.
''I feel like I got attacked early on in the season. They threw the ball my way,'' Browner said. ''... I got balls thrown at me and made the best of it at times. I was up there in balls deflected. I was up there in interceptions. My play speaks volumes.''
Because of the way Seattle's cornerbacks have played, it's allowed the Seahawks to do more with Thomas and Chancellor patrolling the middle. Thomas thought because of his lower interception numbers that he wouldn't be in the running for a Pro Bowl spot. But aside from interceptions is a number that's even more critical to the Seahawks defensive success and might better define Thomas' impact this year: limiting big plays.
According to STATS LLC, Seattle ranked 31st in the NFL last year giving up 76 plays of 20 or more yards either running or passing. Entering the season finale Sunday at Arizona, Seattle is tied for second with Baltimore in the category, giving up just 45 plays of 20 or more yards.
''That has a tremendous amount to do with how he plays and the plays that he's been able to stop and keep from even being attempted at us because he's in the right positions and all,'' Carroll said about Thomas.
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