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5 SEATTLE Seahawks
Austin Murphy
September 01, 1997
Ho hum. Five days after reporting to training camp, rookie cornerback Shawn Springs jogged onto the field at 3Com Park in San Francisco for his first NFL play. It was the second quarter of Seattle's Aug. 9 preseason game against the 49ers. Springs's assignment: Defend the best receiver in NFL history.
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September 01, 1997

5 Seattle Seahawks

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1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record: 7-9 (fifth in AFC West)

Rushing

Passing

Total

OFFENSE

124.8(5)

189.2(24)

314.0(19)

DEFENSE

131.1(28)

208.7(17)

339.8(24)

Ho hum. Five days after reporting to training camp, rookie cornerback Shawn Springs jogged onto the field at 3Com Park in San Francisco for his first NFL play. It was the second quarter of Seattle's Aug. 9 preseason game against the 49ers. Springs's assignment: Defend the best receiver in NFL history.

Jerry Rice ran a short crossing pattern, and Springs covered him like bad cologne. Steve Young threw elsewhere, incomplete. Asked after the game if it was scary matching up against the future Hall of Famer, Springs seemed insulted. "At my position you've got to have confidence," said Springs, the third pick in the draft, "and that's something I'm not real short on." Suddenly the Seattle secondary is a repository of talent and altitude.

On Feb. 15 the team called a press conference to announce the signing of free-agent outside linebacker Chad Brown, formerly of the Steelers. Milling anonymously amid reporters and ebullient team officials that day was 5'9" cornerback Willie Williams, also a free agent, whose defection from Pittsburgh to Seattle the following day made a much smaller splash. "Nobody knew who I was," recalls Williams, who had an interview with Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson on the same day that Brown's signing was announced. "He told me they were looking for some corners who could get physical with receivers. They want to play a lot of man, so they can run a lot of blitzes and stunts up front."

Indeed, Brown, who had 13 sacks last season, would have found it difficult to wreak his customary havoc on opposing offenses if the Seahawks had not brought in talented people to play behind him. The addition of punishing strong safety and former Lion Bennie Blades—his brother Brian, the Seattle wideout, took a pay cut to facilitate the family reunion—completed the overhaul of what had been one of the NFL's least-productive secondaries. Last year's starting cornerbacks, Carlton Gray and Corey Harris, combined for a paltry one interception and were incapable of playing the in-your-face, man-to-man coverage Erickson demands. Both are gone.

"Willie's a great cover guy who's really added a lot to our secondary, and we think Shawn is going to be pretty good, too," says Erickson, who employs understatement in discussing Springs, lest he rhapsodize too much. At 6 feet, 195 pounds, Springs is a bigger-than-average corner with a mean streak. Erickson nearly swooned watching him go through a predraft workout in Columbus, Ohio. "Second-best workout I've ever seen," says Erickson. The best? "Joey Galloway," he replied, referring to the Seahawks' best wideout, another former Buckeye.

After missing 16 days of camp in a contract holdout, Springs intercepted two passes and lit up tight end Carlester Crumpler with a solid shot in his first practice. When the session ended, the veterans taped the rookie to a tackling dummy.

While Springs will get the most attention, it is worth noting that the primary source of this secondary's newfound surliness is Blades, who spent the preseason unloading on anything that moved and haranguing his teammates. "Bennie gives us some leadership back there that we haven't had," says Erickson. Adds Brown, "Bennie doesn't like guys who don't play hard."

Shortly before Brown signed his six-year, $24 million deal, Steelers director of football operations Tom Donahoe warned the linebacker that he might have difficulty making the transition from Pittsburgh's 3-4 to Seattle's 4-3. Indeed, Brown appeared tentative in camp and admits that, at times, he has been thinking instead of reacting.

Erickson is confident that once Brown gets a handle on his new job, he'll be amassing sacks with his customary frequency. If that happens, it will be due in large part to the new Seahawks playing behind him.

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