RENTON This is the most urgent work week leading to the most important game of the Seahawks’ season.
Yet they are still telling DeShawn Shead “not so fast.”
Last week Seattle’s starting cornerback in 2016 returned to practice for the first time since reconstructive knee surgery in January. Per league rules for the reserve/non-football-injury list Shead’s been on, the Seahawks have three weeks from the first day he practiced to decide if he is ready to rejoin the active roster and play in a game. If he proves he’s not ready by Dec. 27, the Wednesday before the regular-season finale against Arizona on Dec. 31, he will end his season on injured reserve. He would then become a free agent in the spring without playing in a game this season.
Now that he’s back at practice, these days are excruciating teases. The former decathlete at Portland State has never been off a field and strictly in a training room rehabilitating for almost 11 grueling, endless months. He’s finally back on the field--but so far doctors are not allowing him to play in the most important games of this season, the ones that will determine whether Seattle (8-5) makes the playoffs for the sixth consecutive January.
“Oh, man! I’m even more anxious than I was before,” he said before his fourth day of practice this year Wednesday, four days before what amounts to the NFC West championship game against the Los Angeles Rams. “I’m back out there. I know I’ve got to go through the protocols, the three-week protocol that they choose to play.
“I’m pretty sure they’ll probably take me the whole three weeks. Just because, honestly--I’m not 100-percent sure--but the fact I haven’t played football in (more than) 10 months they are doing their best job of keeping me safe. So, I’ve definitely got to respect that.
“Yeah, I’ve not played football in 10 months. So they need to ease me back to full speed and live reps.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said about as much.
“He made it through the week and he just survived his first week back. This week and next week will be his two weeks to really get going, and we’re just looking for indications of how far along he has come,” Carroll said Wednesday. “He is able to go. He’s running fast. He’s working hard. But each day of practice is really big for him.
“So, we don’t have much time to take. But we’ll take it all that we can to figure this out.”
By now, the Seahawks have earned Shead’s trust. And vice versa.
The former undrafted rookie free agent entered the league with the Seahawks in 2012. He scrapped to make a team on its way to consecutive Super Bowls at the end of the 2013 and ‘14 seasons. He dutifully filled every role as a backup in the defensive secondary and a mainstay on every special-teams unit through 2015. Carroll talked throughout those years about how much he appreciated Shead coming up in his program, never complaining, doing all that was asked of him and earning more roles each month of each season. Last year the Seahawks rewarded him; he became a full-time starter for the first time, at right cornerback opposite Richard Sherman.
Then he shredded his left knee making a cut outside in pass coverage during Seattle’s playoff loss at Atlanta in January. Ten, interminable months followed before he got back to practice on a limited basis Dec. 6.
“My body responded really well,” he said of last week’s practices. “My knee didn’t swell up. I was running in and out of breaks and there was no pain. My leg was strong coming in and out of breaks. And my conditioning was great.
“They limited my reps, so I wasn’t able to get a lot of work. What they did was after practice was over I got more work after practice.
“But I thought it was a great week. I even feel better this week, already.”
Shead said last week being the right cornerback for a few scrimmage plays per day reaffirmed to him than he can get back to playing before the end of this regular season.
“Oh, definitely. Definitely,” he said. “I got to line up and get to work against some of the receivers. Got to feel that full-speed tempo, full-speed routes, getting in and out of breaks, breaking down on different routes, putting my foot in the ground. So that boosted my confidence even more, to get back out there.”
This time last year, Shead measured his progress weekly in tackles, passes defensed, interceptions--and, of course, wins.
Now, he’s measuring success in smaller increments--each practice, each day--and in the smallest movements, the nuances of playing cornerback in the NFL. He know he must prove to himself just as much as the doctors that he can do that, that he can return to his starting form of 2016.
So far, after one week of practice, so good.
“Just the little movements. I think that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “You can train all you want--I did A LOT of training, A LOT of work. But it’s the little movements that you can’t train for.
“For example, breaking down on a route and then running in across the field, change of direction, to go tag off on a running back. Or it’s a run play and you run--and then you stop and you have to go around somebody and get a rip for the ball. Those are the little movements that I don’t think you can mimic without practicing. So just having those movements give me confidence that I can go out there and play.
“If it were up to me, I’d play this weekend. But you’ve got to trust the process. You’ve got to trust that they know what they’re talking about. And just be patient and just keep grinding.
“Just keep waiting for my opportunity.”