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Originally published December 22, 2011 at 8:25 PM | Page modified December 23, 2011 at 10:04 PM

Seahawks secondary could be one of best in NFL

The Seahawks have 21 interceptions this season, already their most in any season since 2004.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday San Francisco @ Seahawks, 1:15 p.m., Ch. 13

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RENTON — It's not easy to stand out in Seattle's secondary.

Not with two starting cornerbacks who would blend in on a basketball team and a strong safety in Kam Chancellor who could be mistaken for a linebacker.

No missing Earl Thomas, though. Not after he turned his jersey backward, putting his family roots on his chest for a portrait of the secondary. Not that Thomas needed to do that: Everyone knows who he is. It's the rest of the Seahawks secondary the NFL is learning about — from the players' sticky-fingered penchant for interceptions to their willingness to invade a receiver's personal space.

So consider this a formal introduction: Meet cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, who have been paired with the safety tandem of Thomas and Chancellor to form a secondary that both exemplifies Seattle's improvement this season and embodies the expectations for the future.

"We can be really a force," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.

In some ways, they already are. Seattle has 21 interceptions this season, already its most in any season since 2004. The secondary has accounted for all but five of those picks, and of the five turnovers Seattle forced in Chicago last week, the secondary produced four of them.

The Seahawks have the youngest secondary in the NFL. They might also have the most unlikely.

One starting cornerback played the past four years in Canada. That would be the 6-foot-4 Browner, and all he's done is become the first Seahawk since Eugene Robinson in 1991 to intercept a pass in four consecutive games.

Then there's Sherman, who's 6-3. He's a rookie who was catching passes up until three years ago at Stanford, not defending them. He sent a text to then-Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh saying he would switch to the backfield.

After injuries to Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond bumped Sherman into the Seahawks' starting lineup, he has picked off three passes. This week, he answered all questions with an endorsement of voting Browner to the Pro Bowl.

Chancellor is the strong safety, extra emphasis on the word strong. The man is 6-4 and was recruited to Virginia Tech to play quarterback, but after moving to the defensive backfield, he had an assistant coach who told him never to let anyone move him to linebacker. He's big enough to play closer to the line of scrimmage, but his size and mobility make him the cleanup hitter in the middle of that defensive backfield.

Thomas was a first-round pick in 2010, the 14th overall selection who tied the franchise rookie record last season with five interceptions. He was the only sure thing in Seattle's secondary to start the season, a player with range as wide as the Great Plains and someone who could be this generation's Ed Reed.

Thomas has picked off two passes this season — fewest of any of Seattle's starting defensive backs. His progress has shown in other areas.

"Last year I think he was just figuring out his position and how we wanted him to play," said Gus Bradley, Seattle's defensive coordinator. "He's just evolved his game just in understanding concepts."

Thomas appears on his way to becoming the star many expected. What no one foresaw was how quickly the secondary would fill in around him.

"If we keep up this pace, we can be one of the best," Thomas said. "We've got guys that are hungry. If we keep the right attitude, we can be one of the best in the NFL."

That's a long way from where Seattle started this season with Trufant as the only starter in the secondary with more than one NFL season on his résumé.

The Seahawks were so concerned about their depth they re-signed Kelly Jennings to a one-year contract only to trade him in August when it became apparent the next generation of Seattle's secondary was ready to go.

For years, the Seahawks appeared undersized and overmatched downfield. This year, they are finally standing tall with a secondary that is becoming impossible to overlook.

"I've got high expectations for these guys," Carroll said, "and for the long haul."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @dannyoneil.

Seahawks secondary
Pos., player Age Exp College Ht Wt
CB Brandon Browner 27 1 Oregon State 6-4 221
CB Richard Sherman 23 R Stanford 6-3 195
FS Earl Thomas 22 2 Texas 5-10 202
SS Kam Chancellor 23 2 Virginia Tech 6-3 232
Secondary care
Seattle had the youngest starting secondary of any team in the league during Week 15. Here's the five youngest with their seasonlong statistics for pass defense:
Team Avg. starting DB age Pass yds (NFL rank) INTs (rank)
Seattle 24 years, 129 days 220.7 (13) 21 (2, tied)
Minnesota 24 years, 247 days 260.4 (30) 6 (32)
Indianapolis 24 years, 339 days 246.4 (24) 8 (28, tied)
Kansas City 25 years, 71 days 209.6 (9) 17 (6, tied)
New England 26 years, 1 day 296.7 (32) 18 (4, tied)

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