RENTON — Of the several Seahawks likely to emerge from the shadows of the depth chart, safety Earl Thomas raised a good point: “Nobody knew about Richard Sherman until he got his opportunity.”
Sherman was a rookie understudy until injuries in 2011 opened the door to stardom.
Monday night in the face of a Drew Brees-led New Orleans Saints offense, the newest “Richard Sherman” could be Byron Maxwell or Jeremy Lane, or perhaps even DeShawn Shead.
Playing time opened for reserve cornerbacks when Walter Thurmond was suspended last week for a substance-abuse violation, and Brandon Browner, already out with a groin injury, was reportedly appealing a bad test of his own.
And now, the most important tests are on the field, and they’ll be administered by seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback Brees, and a Saints passing attack that ranks No. 2 in the National Football League.
Lane and Maxwell played competently last season when Browner was suspended for performance-enhancing drug use, while Shead (pronounced “shed”) spent most of the past two seasons on the practice squad.
“This is an opportunity for them to shine again and for them to go out there and show their talents like they were able to last year,” Sherman said. “It’s a blessing for them, and a blessing for a team to have two guys who really deserve to play in Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane, who go out there and bust their behinds every week. I’m happy for them.”
Sherman actually sounded more excited for the backups than did Maxwell, who’s been playing it cool this week.
“It’s a little bigger deal to everybody else than it is to me,” Maxwell said. “I’m getting more reps, that’s about it, but I take everything the same as I’ve been doing. … I prepared like a starter when I wasn’t, so it’s no different.”
Maxwell and Lane have been key special-teams performers, with Lane, in particular, becoming known as one of the league’s most respected “gunners” — those who course after punt returners from the outside position.
Both are sixth-round draft picks, Maxwell (Clemson) in 2011, Lane (Northwestern State) in 2012.
Lane drew scouts’ attentions when his school “played up” against LSU and he came up with nine tackles and a sack.
Maxwell is particularly physical and Lane noticeably feisty. Early in his rookie training camp, Lane got in a dust-up with much-larger veteran receiver Mike Williams.
“I try to be physical,” Maxwell said. “I’m just trying to have fun out there, basically. That’s what you get paid to do, have fun.”
Tackling and coverage, apparently, are offered free of charge.
Shead, a four-year starter at Portland State, was signed as a free agent in April 2012. The Hawks were so protective of his not being snapped up off their practice squad that they gave him a raise to $8,500 a week from the practice-squad norm of $6,000.
Sherman touted Shead as being a physical player on the lines of Browner and Kam Chancellor. “(He’s) able to be strong and stop people,” Sherman said. “I think he has good feet. If he gets his chance to be on the field, he’ll surprise a lot of people, and I think that’s another testament to the depth that we have.”
That degree of support from the veteran starters has been meaningful, Maxwell said.
“I think that comes with the trust in us from last year when we came in and we handled our business,” Maxwell said. “That type of trust is earned.”
As is his way, coach Pete Carroll touted this as an opportunity for some players who have “come here to play football for us; they haven’t come here to watch.”
“These guys can all play,” he said. “They’ve played for us before, they’ve done great stuff when they have, and we have nothing to think about but the positive, and the upside is that these guys are going to contribute in a big way.”
Brees will give them that chance, as it’s likely he’ll be looking for them from the start.