Trust thy neighbor
By Jason Cole, Yahoo Sports
July 31, 2007
KIRKLAND, Wash. – The duo has practiced this routine for months now. The moves and voices working in perfect syncopation, the choreography simply splendid to behold.
No this is not "American Idol Live!" with Sanjaya Malakar and Blake Lewis entertaining people. Instead, this is Seattle Seahawks practice with safeties Deon Grant and Brian Russell on display. They are the new starters for the Seahawks, both signed as free agents and charged with orchestrating the team's revamped secondary. Moreover, they are here to rebuild the confidence of an entire defense that gave up big plays by the bushel last season.
Yet, the theme doesn't stop with Grant and Russell. Everywhere you look, the Seahawks are trying to rebuild the teamwork they had in 2005 when they went to the Super Bowl. The offensive line, still trying to overcome the free agency departure of premier guard Steve Hutchinson in '06, is attempting to build cohesion with center Chris Spencer taking over for retired veteran Robbie Tobeck.
In the receiving corps, wide receiver Darrell Jackson and talented-but-troubled tight end Jerramy Stevens were sent packing this offseason. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is still adjusting to working with Deion Branch and new tight end Marcus Pollard.
On top of that, coach Mike Holmgren has borrowed a page from former assistant and fellow Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden. The Seahawks are shifting and moving on offense like never before, Holmgren hoping that solves what he feels was a problem with the offense becoming "predictable" last year.
However, none of the offensive issues quite measure up to Grant's and Russell's responsibilities. In losses against Chicago (regular season and playoffs), San Francisco at home and a heartbreaker after having San Diego on the ropes, the Seattle secondary gave up one confidence-crushing play after another.
"When you have plays like that, you have everybody looking around at each other trying to figure out what went wrong," said Grant, who joined the team as a free agent from Jacksonville.
Or as Russell put it, "They get in your head."
That's a dangerous situation for a defense.
"The discipline and the communication and the trust on defense are what defense is all about," Holmgren said. "Defense is a little simpler. I'm not talking about plays or structure. What you're asking is that the player plays hard, be disciplined for what you do and play with a lot of emotion."
Thinking can get in the way. Such as last season with cornerback Marcus Trufant, who was the victim of big plays at bad times like the first game against Chicago on national television.
Holmgren and assistant head coach Jim Mora believe Trufant's problems started with players around him, such as former free safety Ken Hamlin, not being where Trufant expected. When that started to happen, Trufant became indecisive.
"When I look at it, I think Tru was just tentative at times, not sure all the time what was going to happen behind him," Mora said.
That, combined with Trufant's unassuming attitude, made for a bad mix.
"Marcus always knows what to do. He's a bright guy and takes care of his business," Holmgren said. "But if you lose a little bit of that confidence, just a little bit, it can snowball on you.
"He was a victim a little of making up for what others didn't do … it was like he was trying to play a position and a half instead of just his position."
While Trufant agrees that communication was a big problem, Grant believes the problem will be solved with trust.
"Your corners have to trust that they know where you're going to be," Grant said. "If you're calling a play, it has to be consistent all the time, especially early on. If I'm not there covering the deep middle when the corner expects it, what's he going to think the next time?"
Grant and Russell are big on communication and have been on the same page well before they got to Seattle.
The pair shares the same agent, Mitch Frankel. Russell, who spent the previous two seasons in Cleveland, started calling Grant for tips on how Jacksonville played against Indianapolis and quarterback Peyton Manning. They then began talking on a nearly weekly basis. When the Seahawks started asking about Grant and told Frankel they were rebuilding the secondary, Frankel told them about Russell and the friendship between the two.
Watching them practice is instructive about how a good secondary works. After each play is done, they do a quick conversation about what they saw before and after the snap. They have gotten to the point that Grant can simply yell, "BRuss" followed by a quick word of explanation.
On Monday, in a seven-on-seven drill, the communication became simple reaction, as if they'd been at this for years together. Just as the snap was about to be made, Grant and Russell recognized what was coming and peeled away from the short part of the field to take away the deep threat. As they simultaneously ran, they both yelled "Under" to the rest of the defense, their voices melding about as good as John Lennon and Paul McCartney ever managed.
As Hasselbeck dropped to pass, looking for the deep throw, he realized quickly it was gone. He opted for a tough seam pass into a tight spot. The ball fell incomplete with a quick thud. For a defense hoping to get in concert by the start of the season, it was a sweet sound.
Updated on Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007 2:51 pm, EDT