RENTON – If special teams are executed properly, their play should look like highlights from those Shark Week shows.
The job takes a special kind of predator, single-minded and highly motivated, one for whom self-preservation is not exactly atop the priority list.
A little crazy? “That’s part of the job title,” the Seahawks’ Michael Robinson said.
Gotta be a little different? “Oh yeah different up here,” said Byron Maxwell, pointing at his head.
Both Robinson and Maxwell have been big hitters for the Seahawks, but they share awe over Seahawks newcomer Heath Farwell, the drone missile the team picked up four weeks ago.
“Heath has been fantastic,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He has jumped to the top of the charts on his production. He’s a real pro. We had our eye on him for a couple weeks and didn’t have the opportunity to get him; we were lucky to get him when we did.”
Yes, they were, and Farwell had to live through a few weeks of unemployment to serve as an example of the whims and vagaries of life in the NFL.
He was a Pro Bowl special teams performer as recently as 2009, but was cut by Minnesota at the end of training camp and was without work until mid-October when Seattle called.
“It was wild,” he said. “I was just sitting at home playing with my son and trying to stay in shape when I got a phone call (from Seattle). I flew in here on a Tuesday night, took my physical on Wednesday, practiced that afternoon, and we flew to Cleveland on Friday.”
He said he wasn’t only busy trying to learn all the special teams assignments and the defensive schemes (as a backup linebacker), he also was trying to figure out who the guys were in the cubicles next to him.
Farwell was signed by the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2005, and his aggressive play and dedicated community involvement in Minnesota made him a fan favorite.
He led the Vikings in special teams tackles four of his seasons – one time coming up with a stunning seven special teams stops in a single game against the New York Giants. And in 2009, he became the first Vikings player in 24 years to make it to the Pro Bowl as a special teams player.
But when a veteran signs a good contract these days, it sometimes serves to make him vulnerable at cut time. Such was the case for Farwell.
“That’s football,” he said of his unexpected unemployment. “There’s guys in this locker room who have been with three teams in a year. I was fortunate enough to have some stability for a good portion of my career. So this was a great opportunity and I was excited to be back on the field.”
He’s already second in special teams tackles after playing four games here.
“I love him he took some focus off me,” Robinson said. “He’s a consummate pro. I’ve learned some things from him, the way he uses his hands, he’s always in the right spot, he never quits. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Robinson said he had heard of Farwell’s reputation from players around the league before he met him.
“I had heard guys talk about the kind of guy he is, so I knew what we were going to get when he came here,” Robinson said. “It’s definitely a tribute to his hard work.”
Farwell estimated he sees action in 20-30 plays a game, with most of the impact on coverage units, when he’s asked, basically, to seek and destroy.
“It’s full-speed, high intensity,” he said. “Running 40 yards and trying to make a hit. It’s an effort thing. You can’t really think about your body, you just try to fly around and make plays.”
The kickoff coverage team contributed significantly in the Seahawks’ upset victory over Baltimore on Sunday, twice forcing fumbles inside the Baltimore 20.
“If we can shorten the field for the offense, or extend the field for the opposing (offense), it can make a huge change in field position,” he said.
Special teams are not for the timid or meek. But for predatory land sharks like Heath Farwell, it’s a nice way to make a living.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org