DeShawn Shead grabbed the ball thrown directly to him and was sprinting from one length of the field to the other. There was no one from Minnesota to Milwaukee in front of him to the end zone.
But all that green turf in front of him wasn’t the most noticeable thing about Shead’s 88-yard interception return in the Seahawks’ preseason game Sunday night against the Vikings.
What was most remarkable was that no one was fast enough to catch him on his reconstructed knee.
“Yeah, that definitely helped. It definitely helped,” Shead said late Sunday night, smiling at the reassuring aspect of his play.
“It’s good to go out there and play normal, feel normal, not worry about any injury.
“Just go out there and play the game. ... As soon as I caught the ball, I looked up and there were just a couple of guys to my left. I knew then that I was going to outrun them.”
A year ago at this time Shead felt like he couldn’t outrun anybody. He was a reduced version of the former decathlete at Portland State. Reconstructive knee surgery in January 2017, following torn ligaments he got in a Seahawks playoff loss at Atlanta to end the 2016 season, eventually ended his first time as a special-teams captain and do-it-all veteran in Seattle’s secondary. The effects of it lasted into the 2018 season, his limited, frustrating one with the Detroit Lions.
That’s why when he reached the end zone with the Seahawks’ only touchdown Sunday night, the faith-based Shead took a knee in a thoughtful, thankful pose.
That’s why all of Shead’s teammates on defense—and quarterback Russell Wilson, who wasn’t even in the game by then and rushed from the Seahawks’ sideline—ran into the end zone to celebrate with Shead. They all struck a pose for cameras, real and imagined, as if it was one, big family photo.
And that’s why Shead said this following Seattle’s 25-19 preseason loss at Minnesota: “I appreciate every snap. I appreciate every rep. And I appreciate every opportunity. My role is to go out there and do what I can to help this team win.”
He’s done that in consecutive games now.
The previous week in the preseason opener against Denver, Shead blitzed in from his strong safety position and sacked Broncos rookie quarterback Drew Lock for a safety.
“That was a big play. Big play last week, big play this week,” Pete Carroll said Sunday, talking about one of his favorite players during his 10 seasons coaching the Seahawks. “Good for him. Good for us. Really well-played play. They made a little error, we took advantage of it. Got it in the end zone.”
Shead’s uncontested sprint from one purple-painted end zone to the other in Minnesota proved he was right this spring when he lobbied Carroll at Cliff Avril’s retirement party at Paul Allen’s Museum of Pop Culture. That night at Seattle Center Shead assured Carroll his knee was fully healthy for the first time since the 2016 season. That was when Shead was starting at cornerback opposite All-Pro Richard Sherman and was also the Seahawks’ special-teams captain.
He told Carroll he was faster than he was before the surgery.
Late last month, with strong safety Lano Hill still out from a cracked hip that cut short his 2018 season and Seattle’s changed, post-Legion of Boom secondary lacking experience, Carroll called the defensive back he trusts most in for a tryout. The Seahawks signed Shead days into training camp.
His second go-round this month has featured him sharing his knowledge and experiences and making big plays in games. And that’s why he will make this team: Shead is the one safety Carroll and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. trust.
Hill remains unproven Hill, and he has yet to play this preseason. Rookie Marquise Blair left Sunday’s game with back spasms. Fellow rookie draft choice Ugo Amadi was a standout nickel defensive back at Oregon but has yet to seize a sizable role in Seattle’s secondary.
“I know there is a lot of competition in the room,” Shead said. “There are a lot of great people and great players. It’s really competitive and I’m not sure how it’s going to play out.”
Carroll loves Shead’s versatility and experience of having played for the Seahawks at both free and strong safety, both cornerback spots on each side and the nickel defensive back place inside. The 67-year-old coach also loves how Shead, 30, has been one of the shining examples of Carroll’s system in this decade, a homegrown former undrafted rookie free agent who did everything asked of him with a smile and faith en route to winning a Super Bowl with Seattle in February 2014.
He, Wilson, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are the only Seahawks left from that Super Bowl 48 win over the Broncos.
“It’s just awesome to see Shead just make his plays,” Wilson said in the visiting locker room in Minneapolis. “He’s always been a playmaker, and he’s always been a great leader for us.
“Going back to the Atlanta Falcons game in the playoffs before he got injured, he was one of the star corners in the National Football League, making a lot of great plays.”
Shead’s Sunday wasn’t perfect.
On the series following his touchdown he missed a tackle in the open field on Vikings running back Mike Boone immediately after a catch. He was the Seahawk who had to make that stop, to prevent a big play, because Norton had sent a double-linebacker blitz that didn’t get to quarterback Sean Mannion. No one but Shead was in the middle of the field to defend that pass to Boone. He gained 45 yards after Shead’s missed tackle. Shead slapped his hands together in frustration as Boone ran to the Seattle 6-yard line.
The Vikings scored the tying touchdown three plays later to make it a 10-10 game at halftime.
Shead played much of the second half. That was when the Seahawks backups in the secondary left Vikings receivers open by missing assignments and fouling up communication before the snap. Shead was the experienced traffic cop in the back.
“It’s preseason,” Shead said of his eighth one in the NFL. “And that is what preseason is for, to gain cohesiveness and be able to communicate well. Some of that communication was not there, but that’s why we go back to look at the tape.
“The whole goal is not to make the same mistake twice and improve for the next game.”
For Shead and his second go-round with the Seahawks, that’s Saturday night in the third preseason game at the Los Angeles Chargers.
“Oh, it’s been fun,” he said. “It’s been fun just to be here, to be back grinding and competing with this team. Just to go out there and play again with this squad, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for this opportunity.
“There was a lot that was out there to still work on, that I’ve still got to work on. I will try to work on those things and prove it every day.”