Ho hum. Five days after reporting to training camp, rookie
cornerback Shawn Springs jogged onto the field at 3Com Park in
San Francisco for his first NFL play. It was the second quarter
of Seattle's Aug. 9 preseason game against the 49ers. Springs's
assignment: Defend the best receiver in NFL history.
Jerry Rice ran a short crossing pattern, and Springs covered him
like bad cologne. Steve Young threw elsewhere, incomplete. Asked
after the game if it was scary matching up against the future
Hall of Famer, Springs seemed insulted. "At my position you've
got to have confidence," said Springs, the third pick in the
draft, "and that's something I'm not real short on." Suddenly
the Seattle secondary is a repository of talent and attitude.
On Feb. 15 the team called a press conference to announce the
signing of free-agent outside linebacker Chad Brown, formerly of
the Steelers. Milling anonymously amid reporters and ebullient
team officials that day was 5'9" cornerback Willie Williams,
also a free agent, whose defection from Pittsburgh to Seattle
the following day made a much smaller splash. "Nobody knew who I
was," recalls Williams, who had an interview with Seahawks coach
Dennis Erickson on the same day that Brown's signing was
announced. "He told me they were looking for some corners who
could get physical with receivers. They want to play a lot of
man, so they can run a lot of blitzes and stunts up front."
Indeed, Brown, who had 13 sacks last season, would have found it
difficult to wreak his customary havoc on opposing offenses if
the Seahawks had not brought in talented people to play behind
him. The addition of punishing strong safety and former Lion
Bennie Blades--his brother Brian, the Seattle wideout, took a
pay cut to facilitate the family reunion--completed the overhaul
of what had been one of the NFL's least-productive secondaries.
Last year's starting cornerbacks, Carlton Gray and Corey Harris,
combined for a paltry one interception and were incapable of
playing the in-your-face, man-to-man coverage Erickson demands.
Both are gone.
"Willie's a great cover guy who's really added a lot to our
secondary, and we think Shawn is going to be pretty good, too,"
says Erickson, who employs understatement in discussing Springs,
lest he rhapsodize too much. At 6 feet, 195 pounds, Springs is a
bigger-than-average corner with a mean streak. Erickson nearly
swooned watching him go through a predraft workout in Columbus,
Ohio. "Second-best workout I've ever seen," says Erickson. The
best? "Joey Galloway," he replied, referring to the Seahawks'
best wideout, another former Buckeye.
After missing 16 days of camp in a contract holdout, Springs
intercepted two passes and lit up tight end Carlester Crumpler
with a solid shot in his first practice. When the session ended,
the veterans taped the rookie to a tackling dummy.
While Springs will get the most attention, it is worth noting
that the primary source of this secondary's newfound surliness
is Blades, who spent the preseason unloading on anything that
moved and haranguing his teammates. "Bennie gives us some
leadership back there that we haven't had," says Erickson. Adds
Brown, "Bennie doesn't like guys who don't play hard."
Shortly before Brown signed his six-year, $24 million deal,
Steelers director of football operations Tom Donahoe warned the
linebacker that he might have difficulty making the transition
from Pittsburgh's 3-4 to Seattle's 4-3. Indeed, Brown appeared
tentative in camp and admits that, at times, he has been
thinking instead of reacting.
Erickson is confident that once Brown gets a handle on his new
job, he'll be amassing sacks with his customary frequency. If
that happens, it will be due in large part to the new Seahawks
playing behind him.
COLOR PHOTO: CORKY TREWIN Efforts like this one by Lamar Smith, who had a team-high eight rushing touchdowns in '96, and a revamped secondary give Seattle high hopes.
BY THE NUMBERS
1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record: 7-9 (fifth in AFC West)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 124.8 (5) 189.2 (24) 314.0 (19)
DEFENSE 131.1 (28) 208.7 (17) 339.8 (24)
Beware the Pair
Some crafty trading landed the Seahawks the third and sixth
selections in the 1997 draft, choices they used to secure
cornerback Shawn Springs and offensive tackle Walter Jones. This
was only the fifth instance since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger in
which a team exercised two of the top six selections in the
draft. If history is any indicator, the Seahawks shouldn't count
on both picks to pan out.
NFL Teams That Had Two of the Top Six Picks in the Draft, 1970-96
Team Selection no. Player Pro performance
1994 Colts 2 Marshall Faulk Two Pro Bowl selections in
5 Trev Alberts Seven career starts
before retiring in July
1992 Colts 1 Steve Emtman Played three years for
Colts; 14 starts
2 Quentin Coryatt Entering sixth year as
1982 Colts 2 Johnie Cooks Six-year starter in
4 Art Schlichter Three TD passes in
four-year NFL career
1973 Eagles 3 Jerry Sisemore Eleven-year starter for
Eagles; two Pro Bowls
6 Charle Young Three Pro Bowls in four
years with Eagles
Seattle, which has sleepwalked through two straight Septembers
(2-6), plays four of its first six games at home. After spending
more than $46 million on free agents in the off-season, new
owner Paul Allen will be expecting an early return on his
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
NFL rank: 28 (tie) Opponents' 1996 winning percentage: .469
Games against playoff teams: 4
The Lineup With 1996 Statistics
Coach: Dennis Erickson
QB John Friesz 211 att. 120 comp. 56.9% 1,629 yds.
8 TDs 4 int. 86.4 rtg.
RB Chris Warren 203 att. 855 yds. 4.2 avg.
40 rec. 273 yds. 6.8 avg. 5 TDs
FB Mack Strong 5 att. 8 yds. 1.6 avg.
9 rec. 78 yds. 8.7 avg. 0 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Joey Galloway 57 rec. 987 yds. 7 TDs
WR Mike Pritchard 21 rec. 328 yds. 1 TD
WR Brian Blades 43 rec. 556 yds. 2 TDs
TE Christian Fauria 18 rec. 214 yds. 1 TD
PK Todd Peterson 27/27 PATs 28/34 FGs 111 pts.
KR Steve Broussard 43 ret. 22.8 avg. 0 TDs
PR Ronnie Harris 19 ret. 10.2 avg. 0 TDs
LT Walter Jones (R)[*] 6'4" 301 lbs. 12 games 12 starts
LG Pete Kendall 6'5" 292 lbs. 12 games 11 starts
C Kevin Mawae 6'4" 296 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Derrick Graham 6'4" 314 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Howard Ballard 6'6" 325 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Michael Sinclair 47 tackles 13 sacks
LT Sam Adams 40 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
RT Cortez Kennedy 69 tackles 8 sacks
RE Phillip Daniels 11 tackles 2 sacks
OLB Winston Moss 106 tackles 1 sack
MLB Dean Wells 107 tackles 1 sack
OLB Chad Brown[*] 81 tackles 13 sacks
CB Shawn Springs (R)[*] 34 tackles 0 int.
SS Bennie Blades[*] 106 tackles 2 int.
FS Darryl Williams 80 tackles 5 int.
CB Willie Williams [*] 76 tackles 1 int.
P Rick Tuten 85 punts 44.1 avg.
Rookie statistics for final college year