Honestly, it’s not Steven Terrell’s fault.
There’s nothing wrong about being called “sound” and “disciplined” by Seahawks teammates, including All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, rather than a dynamic, otherworldly force in the secondary like Earl Thomas.
Terrell may not be as good as the man he’s replaced at free safety, but then again, who is?
Thomas was a first-round selection by the Seahawks out of the University of Texas in 2010. A five-time Pro Bowler, he’s been arguably the top free safety in the NFL since he arrived.
Terrell is an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M. He will make his seventh career start Saturday in place of the injured Thomas as Seattle takes on Atlanta and its high-flying passing attack in the NFC divisional round at the Georgia Dome.
Asked this week about how big of a setback it was for the Seahawks to lose Thomas, who suffered a broken leg against Carolina in early December, Falcons coach Dan Quinn did not shy away from the obvious.
“It’s a tricky thing to talk about because Steven is so principled, so disciplined. And (defensive coordinator) Kris (Richard) and the guys have done a fantastic job of understanding how to go on,” Quinn said. “It’s also real that a guy of Earl’s talent, it isn’t just next man up. He’s so versatile. He covers receivers, running backs, tight ends. He’s a factor, for sure.”
Strangely enough, even though Terrell was an all-state performer for a Texas Class 5A-state winning Allen High School squad as a senior in 2008, he never secured an unquestioned starting spot in college until his senior season with the Aggies.
What Terrell did show at his pro day before the 2013 NFL Draft was speed. He was clocked at 4.36 in the 40-yard dash, which was one of the fastest times recorded that year.
Terrell went undrafted, and was picked up by two NFL teams, Jacksonville and Houston, during his rookie year.
The Seahawks signed him as a free agent during training camp before the 2014 season. He bounced around between the practice squad and active roster for much of that season. And for the Super Bowl that year, he was active as insurance to a hobbled Kam Chancellor, who was battling a knee injury.
Up until the Philadelphia game this season, Terrell barely left the sideline except for special teams.
But against the Eagles, Thomas suffered a hamstring injury. And Terrell came on to spell him.
The next week against Tampa Bay, Terrell made his first NFL start, and played well. He allowed only two catches.
Thomas returned the following week for the “Sunday Night Football” showdown against the reigning NFC champion Panthers. And after a first-half collision with Chancellor, Thomas broke his lower leg, ending his season.
“We haven’t played with him the past few weeks, and we got guys out there that can get the job done,” Richard said. “The consistency of (Terrell’s) play has been getting better and better each and every single game that he’s been out there.
“We ask a lot of our guys playing in the middle of the field, ‘You are our umbrella, you are our last chance.’ And he stood up.”
Coach Pete Carroll said Terrell’s biggest growth area in recent weeks has come in communication.
“Understanding the nonverbal communications and all the things that have to go on back there,” Carroll said. “They’re a long ways along now. ... He is not a first-time guy, or young guy playing anymore.”
Terrell knows he is facing his most stressful test against the Falcons, containing the likes of quarterback Matt Ryan, receivers Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel, and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
By Tuesday, Terrell said he had watched the replay of the earlier game against the Falcons (a 26-24 win by the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in October) three times already. He noted it was one of Thomas’ best efforts of the season.
“There was a lot to learn from, and a lot to build from watching them,” Terrell said. “But some stuff I won’t be able to do (just watching tape). But it is good that we’ve played them already. I have an idea of our scheme against them.”