News Tribune’s Gregg Bell on what to expect in Seahawks’ preseason opener Thursday vs Colts
Brandon Marshall is paying off in ways the Seahawks probably didn’t consider.
And in way that Tre Flowers probably could never have imagined when Seattle drafted him four months ago.
Marshall is the 34-year-old, six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver whom the rest of the NFL thinks is finished. He may end up having a large role in Seattle’s offense—and in the team’s present and future on defense, too.
Flowers is the Seahawks’ rookie fifth-round pick they are converting from Oklahoma State safety to NFL cornerback. This conversion is no small matter. Tuesday, for the first time, Flowers was the starting right cornerback. That was while Byron Maxwell rested a hip-flexor injury. Maxwell is 30 years old. He re-signed this spring for one year. He is not the future at cornerback.
The future at one of football’s most important and difficult positions is Flowers and Shaquill Griffin, the starting left cornerback replacing departed Richard Sherman.
That future could be now, as in, Thursday in Seattle’s preseason opener against Indianapolis.
In his first full weeks at his new position, Flowers has already ascended to the starting unit. He’s also figured out a creative and wise way to learn how to become an elite cover man in this league: learn from one of the most accomplished and difficult guys in the NFL to cover.
Flowers is seeking out the 6-foot-5, 232-pound Marshall for everything. Advice. Preparation. And most of all, “just how to compete,” he said.
That’s why Flowers finds Marshall to line up opposite him before plays on the practice field, whatever the defensive call or coverage for that snap may be. Flowers figures the best way to compete to become Seattle’s new starting cornerback is to compete against one of the preeminent receivers in the league from 2006-15, one who has been showing his own resurgence this month.
“You know, I’ve been competing my whole life. And I thought I was a good competitor. But he brings something out of you,” Flowers said Tuesday of Marshall. “Six-time Pro Bowler. You can’t fake that. At all.
“So anytime he’s going I’m going to call him out. I want to go against him.”
Wait, a rookie calling out a 13th-year veteran 11 years his senior and saying, “I want you”? What?
“Yep. Every time,” Flowers said. “I want to go against him every time.”
This isn’t a secret to Marshall, either.
“He knows it, for sure,” Flowers said. “I’m in his ear. Every day.
‘Yeah, he knows it.”
If Flowers’ development trying to cover this beastly receiver is as sound as his reasoning for seeking out Marshall, Flowers could be starting at right cornerback soon, no matter Maxwell’s health. As in, by the season opener Sept. 9 at Denver, or not much past that.
Flowers figures if he can keep or at least pester Marshall from catching balls, he can shut down anyone. Good figuring. Marshall has six 100-catch seasons in the NFL, more than 12,000 yards receiving and is second among active receivers with 89 touchdown catches.
“Definitely,” he said. “He’s probably one of the biggest guys I’ve ever covered. And he’s SO good with his hands. He’s a vet. I know if I can stick with him I can hold down a little bit more.”
Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. calls Flowers’ progress in his position change “terrific.”
“Long. Fast. Smart. Guy is really humble,” Norton said. “He learns in an instant. He takes everything that we teach him in the classroom, brings it right out to the practice. Makes mistakes, learns from mistakes. And he never makes the same mistake twice. He’s a guy that makes new mistakes and he learns really fast.
“There’s no limit to how good he can be.”
Still, as you can imagine, Flowers’ schooling by Marshall has had its rough patches.
The tutoring has intensified in the past week, as Marshall has gotten closer to fully participating in practices and scrimmages. The Seahawks have been pacing Marshall in his return from toe and ankle surgeries plus a strained hamstring in June.
Friday, Flowers sought Marshall in man coverage during a red-zone drill against the starting offense. For 10 yards Flowers was stride for stride with prime, inside position on Marshall. That showed he’s getting more than just a little hang of coach Pete Carroll’s step-kick for technique for cornerbacks. The skill requires corner man to stay patient off the snap then over the top, ahead of the up-field shoulder of the receivers they are covering.
In that Friday match-up, though, once Marshall and Flowers crossed the goal line the veteran put a move on Flowers he’d never seen in the Big XII Conference. Marshall straightened from his sprint, slid his big torso around and outside the wiry Flowers’ 6-3, 203-pound body, then flipped his hips so quickly into a short, impromptu out route Flowers didn’t know where Marshall went. Flowers had no chance. Marshall’s shoulders and hands were in perfect position to snare Russell Wilson’s exquisitely placed back-shoulder pass for a touchdown.
The next day, Flowers again sought Marshall, during the Seahawks’ annual mock game before the preseason opener. This time the line of scrimmage was in the middle of the field. Flowers again was in stride with Marshall, for about 35 yards. Then Marshall simply put a basketball post-up move on Flowers, using his 30-pound and two-inch size advantage to wall off the rookie onto his back. Wilson placed his pass to the end zone where only Marshall could grab it, which he did easily for another touchdown on Flowers.
“Yeah, I thought he was all over him,” Carroll said Saturday. “The throw was perfect and the catch was perfect. And he’s a 6-5 guy catching the ball all over you.”
Fortunately for Flowers—and for the Seahawks’ future at cornerback—not every wide receiver in the NFL is Brandon Marshall.
Tuesday, on the first play his way for the starting defense, Flowers was locked in coverage during another red-zone scrimmage against Marcus Johnson. Johnson is a third-year wide receiver who was a special-teams player and fourth option for Philadelphia until the Seahawks traded Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett and a draft choice to the Eagles for Johnson and a pick this offseason.
Johnson is two inches shorter than Flowers. He tried a post-fade route with a move inside then outside, toward the back corner of the end zone. Flowers jumped both Johnson’s inside move and even more decisively his outside one, staying over the top the entire time. Wilson looked and looked again at Johnson, then gave up because of Flowers’ blanket coverage. The quarterback checked down to an outlet receiver near the line of scrimmage instead of testing the rookie.
“I think I’ve gotten better everyday,” Flowers said. “That was my goal coming in, was to not make the same mistakes, trying to be a professional the best I can and make plays.”
Carroll drafted Flowers envisioning him to be Sherman-like, a perfect fit for the coach’s prototype as a Seahawks cornerback: tall with long arms (33 7/8 inches, nearly two inches longer than Carroll’s minimum for cornerbacks he’s drafted in Seattle) and the competitiveness to attack passes in flight.
Ten training-camp days into converting Flowers from Oklahoma State safety to Seattle cornerback, Carroll loves what he sees. And loves how Marshall is accelerating Flowers’ growth.
“It’s great for him to match up on Brandon in the snaps that he got,” Carroll said. “He has been really consistent and I’ve been really impressed with his ability to make it look like it’s supposed to look this early. A week old or nine days or whatever the heck it is and he’s got a real good sense for what I’m looking for technique-wise and scheme-wise.
“I’ve said before that his versatility of his background—the fact that he was a safety for a long time and has played so much football—all of that comes into play when you’re playing corner.
“And he’s right in the thick of the competition.”