JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch deservedly draw the attention for what they’ve done in getting the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl.
Players like Jermaine Kearse, Walter Thurmond and Malcolm Smith are just as big a reason why Seattle is facing Denver in Sunday’s championship game.
Seattle may have one of the better starting lineups in the NFL, but the depth that general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have amassed is equally impressive. It’s the reason they can rotate eight different defensive linemen. It’s why when Brandon Browner was injured and Thurmond suspended, Byron Maxwell could step in and the play in Seattle’s secondary not suffer.
It’s a regular refrain in the Seattle locker room to hear teammates say the Seahawks reserves could be starters on other teams. And there is some proof: in the past year 23 players once with Seattle have spent time on the 53-man roster of other teams.
“It’s crazy because we’re always saying our backups could be starters. We always say that,” strong safety Kam Chancellor said. “Those guys, people don’t see this, but in practice those guys play just as good as us. They’re making plays, getting the ball. Those guys contribute on special teams. Our special teams are probably one of the best.
“Those guys put in work on special teams and it just goes unseen.”
When Carroll and Schneider took over, there was a revolving door of roster moves —839 in total since before the start of the 2010 season — that followed in an effort to make a roster that was competitive beyond just the starters on each side of the ball. They wanted a depth chart that was the envy of the NFL. They wanted their reserves coveted by other teams. They wanted guys they were going to be released grabbed off the waiver wire the second they were made available.
Seattle got its wish. Of the players released in the past year, five ended up in Jacksonville and four landed in Kansas City.
“John and I have joined together aggressively to compete at every single turn, at every opportunity whatever it may be, to see if there’s something in there for us,” Carroll said. “He’s done a great job of having the competitive will to keep pushing and fighting and clawing and scratching to have the opportunity that has sent us down the road early on with the hundreds of guys that came through the program.”
Kearse, Thurmond and Smith are just three examples of players not counted on as full-time starters that have proven invaluable. Seattle’s seen contributions from Michael Bowie, Clinton McDonald, Jeremy Lane and Heath Farwell just to name a few more.
Kearse was an undrafted free agent that signed with Seattle in 2012 and became a needed option as a third and fourth receiver this season with Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice suffering through injuries. Kearse finished with 22 receptions and four touchdowns in the regular season, but his biggest catch came in the NFC championship game when his 35-yard TD grab in the fourth quarter gave Seattle a 20-17 lead.
Thurmond missed four games late in the season when he was suspended for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. But he’s started three games at cornerback this season and is Seattle’s best option as the fifth defensive back covering slot receivers — a big emphasis this week with the amount of times the Broncos throw.
Smith has shown the same kind of versatility at linebacker. He’s played both outside spot this season, first when Bruce Irvin was suspended and later when injuries to K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner forced shuffling.
“Through all the stuff we have gone through there has always been a guy who stepped up and made plays,” Wagner said. “Last year it was Walter, this year it was Walter and Maxwell and guys like Malcolm, everybody. We have a bunch of players that if someone went down can step in and do a great job.”
One of the ways Seattle was able to create such a dynamic roster came from the three-way quarterback competition that Carroll had last season and which Wilson eventually won. It sent the message to the entire roster and to any free agents — big-name or small-time — that Seattle was a place they could come and have a chance.
“You could tell looking at our board of players that we had fast, confident, intelligent individuals,” Schneider said last week. “Guys who knew they were going to come in and compete for positions because the previous year we had a three person quarterback competition.
“You know you have a shot when you have a three person quarterback competition as a player.”