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.