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Originally published August 27, 2011 at 5:13 PM | Page modified August 27, 2011 at 11:19 PM

Jerry Brewer

Aaron Curry is a changed man, but is he a changed player?

Linebacker Aaron Curry is approaching a make-or-break season with the Seahawks.

Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes Be a Jesus freak, different issue and position, as a football player in the NFL you... Read more
quotes Jesus loves everyone including overpaid linebackers that are a complete bust. Read more
quotes Jesus: the most polarizing figure of all time. Makes our opinions about whether a... Read more

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Aaron Curry has been called many things, most of them unflattering, during his lackluster first two NFL seasons. Now, he is adding his own label to the list.

"I'm a Jesus freak," Curry declares proudly.

His critics' heads are probably doing 360s right now.

Curry doesn't care. He's at peace, finally. His early pro career has been a whir of underachieving and overanalyzing, of the philosophies of two different head coaches and of mass confusion over how he best fits into a defense. He and the Seahawks have restructured his massive rookie contract, trimming it from six to four years, eliminating a guaranteed $5 million salary for next season and putting his status after the 2011 season in limbo.

You'd expect Curry to be on edge as he approaches a make-or-break year with the Seahawks. But he's not. For a player who often wears his emotions on his shoulder pads, Curry is practically serene right now.

It's the religion. It would be irresponsible to write about Curry and ignore it, even if the topic might be polarizing. He was baptized in March, after attending a pro athletes' Christian retreat with his wife, Jamila. His Twitter feed is a constant stream of Bible scripture and praise. He is like a 6-foot-2, 255-pound evangelist, talking with the passion of a man who has discovered a universal elixir.

And what does this have to do with football? Well, Curry is showing signs of improvement in three key areas — patience, playbook comprehension and discipline — and he credits his faith for that. Curry has struggled with the Seahawks not because he's lazy or content after signing a huge contract. To the contrary, he wants it too much at times. He overruns plays, or becomes robotic when he doesn't understand the nuances of playing the position, or fails to grasp the big picture of what the Seahawks are trying to do in their defensive scheme.

Because Curry's problems aren't physical, he still has a chance to be a rare, late-blooming linebacker if he can relax, study harder and develop a better feel for the game. Many don't see it and breathlessly declare him a bust. But Curry, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 draft, is only 25. There's still time. There's little question about his athletic ability. And there's no doubt his newfound faith is changing his mental approach.

"I never approached the game and said, 'OK, I'm the fourth pick, and I've got to show why I'm the fourth pick,' " Curry said. "I've learned a lot, through my mistakes and through some successes. I'm going to continue to grow, but definitely, being a Christian, I've learned that, no matter how hard you try, you can't please everybody — and that includes myself.

"I'm not fighting myself now. Even though I was blessed, I used to be unhappy, and I was constantly trying to figure out why I was unhappy. Now, I can't find any unhappy days. My faith in Christ is settling me down. It's giving me peace."

It's giving him a desire to sit and read and explore the complexity of what he's reading. It starts with the Bible, but it carries over to the playbook.

"With the Bible, you have to read it, understand it, apply it and deliver it," Curry said. "That's how you understand it. And that's what I need to do to understand the playbook — read it, understand it, apply it and deliver it. My faith and obedience is definitely helping to elevate my game on the field."

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who isn't exactly Bill Parcells when it comes to criticizing players publicly, always says positive things when asked about Curry. But perhaps it's telling that Carroll is praising Curry for his mentality and focus during this camp, saying that Curry has "been at the top of his game in terms of preparation."

Lost cause? Maybe not.

Curry may never justify being the No. 4 pick two years ago. Hyperbole suggested he was the best linebacker prospect of the past decade. He's not that, but he's a legitimate NFL starter. After experimenting with Curry, the Seahawks will keep him strictly as a strongside linebacker this season. It's not a glamour position in this defense, but Curry is willing to accept this role.

"I'm not going to pick and choose when I go hard," Curry said. "The role, whatever. The position, whatever. I can't control that. I can only control my effort and whether I can impact the play or not. I'll leave it up to the coaches to put me in the right position, and I'll go full speed."

The self-proclaimed Jesus freak has found his purpose. Next discovery: his game?

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer

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