He isn’t the fastest or the biggest player on the football field.
But when it comes to making bone-crunching hits on special teams for the Seattle Seahawks, he’s the most productive.
Through seven games, Heath Farwell leads in special-teams tackles with eight. Farwell also led the NFL in special-teams tackles last season with 21, which was more impressive because he joined the Seahawks as an unrestricted free agent last October, five games into the season.
“I’m definitely not the fastest guy down there – that’s (Byron) Maxwell or (Chris) Maragos,” Farwell said with a laugh. “But you’ve got to have instincts, too. I’ve got those guys running down in front of me, and I kind of play off of them. And they make a lot of stuff happen that allows me to make tackles.”
The 29-year-old out of San Diego State has carved a niche for himself at the core of special teams, playing on punts, punt returns, kickoffs and kick returns for Seattle.
A free agent last offseason, Farwell signed a three-year deal to stay in Seattle because he thinks coach Pete Carroll is creating a championship-caliber team.
The eight-year pro spent six seasons in Minnesota before arriving in Seattle, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl as a special-teams player in 2009 – the first Vikings special-teams player to earn a trip to Hawaii since Joey Browner in 1985.
At 6-feet and 235 pounds, Farwell also serves as the backup middle linebacker behind rookie Bobby Wagner.
He isn’t the strongest or fastest, but no one is better prepared when it comes to special teams than Farwell.
“I think it’s my preparation during the week,” Farwell said. “I think I have a good understanding of how teams are going to attack us each week. And then I try and play as hard as I can out there and leave it all on the field. And that’s what special teams is all about. It’s playing with passion and energy and effort.”
Heading into the game against San Francisco, the Seahawks’ kick-coverage unit ranked second in the NFL, with opponents starting at their own 19.5 yard line.
The Seahawks also have done well on kickoff returns with veteran Leon Washington averaging 25.4 yards per return before the San Francisco game, good for second in the league.
Farwell’s efforts have been a critical part of that success.
“There’s a lot of energy,” Farwell said. “It’s a lot of fun out there. We kind of feed off of each other and make it competitive. It’s hard to make tackles, and that’s a good problem to have when it’s tough to make tackles. It’s a battle because everyone’s trying to make the most tackles and make the most plays. That’s what makes it fun.
“That’s what this team is built on – not turning over the ball, playing great defense and playing great special teams. Nobody’s driving it 80-plus yards on our defense. So if we’re able to turn the field on them, whether it’s pinning them inside the 20 or get a great return for offense and shorten the field for them, it’s a big part of our game.”
Farwell and fullback Michael Robinson share duties as special-teams captains. Farwell says the two work well together, with Robinson serving as the emotional leader and Farwell leading with his attention to detail and play on the field.
“We can communicate on the field so well because he’s seen so many looks and I’ve seen so many looks,” Robinson said. “Just to be able to come to somebody like that and talk special teams and have that conversation, we’re able to make a lot of adjustments on the sideline.”
“He’s as good of a leader that I’ve ever played with,” Farwell said about Robinson. “He has the ability to rally the guys behind him in a vocal way, whereas that’s not necessarily my personality, so it’s kind of a good combination.
“I think it works well to help bring some of these young guys along, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re playing so well.”Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437