Thanks to general manager John Schneider’s wheeling and dealing, the Seahawks’ 11 draft choices this spring tied Cincinnati and Minnesota for most in the NFL.
No one among Seattle’s 11 picks has a better chance of starting in his debut season than third-round selection Shaquill Griffin.
Not first-round pick Malik McDowell. He figures to be a situational pass rusher in the defensive-line rotation. Not second-round choice Ethan Pocic. The versatile former LSU center is entering training camp behind Germain Ifedi at right tackle and Mark Glowinski at right guard.
Griffin’s quest to start at right cornerback opposite three-time All-Pro Richard Sherman begins on Sunday with the first practice of training camp.
“He’s got probably one of the best corner minds that we’ve had for a young guy around here,” Seattle’s defensive coordinator Kris Richard said.
“That’s just in regards to leverage, positioning, the understanding of our coverages and where we need him to be.”
The job at right corner is open because DeShawn Shead is hurt. He is likely to begin training camp and then perhaps the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. That latter scenario would mean the Seahawks starting cornerback from last season would be out at least the first six weeks of the 2017 regular season, per NFL rules for the PUP list.
A player that begins training camp on the PUP list can come off at any time before the regular season. Only players that start training camp on the PUP list are eligible to begin the regular season on it -- and then save the team a spot on the 53-man active roster.
Shead’s injury is why finding a starting right cornerback is the third of my five issues the Seahawks need to settle during training camp.
Presented this week in ascending order: Number five: Establishing trust in new kicker Blair Walsh, as I detailed here Monday.
4. Deciding on Kam Chancellor’s contract situation, was outlined here on Tuesday.
Shead tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during mid-January’s playoff loss at Atlanta. He wasn’t on the field participating in organized team activities or minicamp practices in May and June. He could be out until well into this season; November would be 10 months from the injury and reconstructive surgery.
When asked about the candidates for the open job, coach Pete Carroll last month first mentioned veteran Jeremy Lane. Lane, the usual nickel back inside against slot receivers in passing situations, was the right cornerback in base defense during OTAs and minicamp.
Then again, so what? Seattle has been in base defense for 40 percent or fewer of snaps for most of the last two seasons. The majority of the Seahawks’ defensive plays against today’s NFL pass-a-lot offenses recently has been in nickel, with the strong-side linebacker out in favor of a fifth defensive back. Lane has been that nickel back. He had a poor season covering slot receivers in 2016, the first year of the three-year, $23 million extension he signed before last season.
Seattle playing nickel so much is why the battle between at outside linebacker this summer between offseason acquisitions Michael Wilhoite and Terence Garvin at strong-side linebacker isn’t on one of my top five issues the Seahawks need to settle in camp.
And it’s why the current battle between Griffin and veteran special-teamer Neiko Thorpe to be the right cornerback while Lane is playing nickel, one that will resume Sunday, is far more intruiging and integral to Seattle’s season.
Griffin and Thorpe split time during offseason practices in nickel defense. Griffin was the cornerback outside during OTA drills. Thorpe got more time as the No. 1 corner in nickel during minicamp last month.
Griffin has so far looked the part of a Seahawks cornerback. He’s 6 feet 1 and 198 pounds, one inch taller, eight pounds heavier -- and five years younger -- than Lane. Griffin ran smoothly and quickly to the ball with quick hips in changes of direction during the no-pads practices the media got to watch this offseason.
He admitted the Seahawks’ press-coverage system with its step-kick technique and jamming, turning and then running with receivers is “totally different” than the scheme he played at Central Florida.
But, Griffin said, “I’m just having fun” learning it, with the help of Seattle’s veteran DBs.
“He’s picked it up fairly quickly,” said Richard, who before becoming the coordinator was Seattle’s defensive backs coach through 2015.
The spring practices didn’t involve full pads. They didn’t include the jamming of receivers at the line that Seattle’s defense demands or competing for the pass while its in flight. League rules against contact in the offseason prohibited Griffin or anyone else from doing the crux of cornerback job in May and June.
He’ll be doing it to end July and start August.
“We’re going to be really excited to see him strap it up and get out there and actually be able to compete for the football while it’s in the air. That’s going to be the next phase,” Richard said. “But his technique has been improving day after day, and he has real strength. He has strength in his hands. You can tell he’s a powerful guy. And, obviously, his speed is there.”
The Seahawks re-signed Thorpe, 27, in March after he was again one of their best special-teams players last season. He has two years at non-guaranteed $800,000 and $1.6 million on his contract.
Yet Seattle drafted Griffin with the hope of him becoming a front-line guy in its defense. You don’t take guys in the third round to cut them, or to stash them on special teams.
Put another way: The Seahawks drafted Griffin two rounds earlier than they drafted Sherman a half-dozen years ago.
These next five weeks of training camp and exhibition games will show whether the promise Griffin showed in helmets and shorts this spring becomes reality in full pads, in the real job. If it does, the Seahawks will have younger, cheaper and better options in a secondary that gave up too many short- and medium-depth receptions last year.
They would also have discovered a potential gem while Shead recuperates.