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Originally published September 8, 2012 at 8:05 PM | Page modified September 8, 2012 at 10:03 PM

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Coach Kris Richard molding Seahawks' talented secondary into one of the NFL's best

Kris Richard, a former Seahawks player, focuses on the smallest details to help Seattle's defensive backs improve. Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner each made the Pro Bowl last season.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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RENTON — When Kris Richard played cornerback for the Seahawks, he always had another question to ask. He always wanted a little more information on a quarterback's tendencies or a wide receiver's route.

Marcus Trufant, a teammate of Richard's for two seasons in Seattle, remembers that Richard spent as much time watching film as a movie critic. His hunger for just a little more knowledge practically wore out projectors and coaches.

Before he became the Hawks' defensive backfield coach, back when he was an NFL cornerback, Richard, who played in 38 games with Seattle between 2002 and 2004, understood there was strength in knowledge.

"He was always one of those guys who wanted to know the defense inside and out," said Trufant, the cornerback in his 10th season with the Seahawks. "I didn't really see him as a coach back then, but now that I look back on it, I saw the potential. He was always asking the right questions. He was always into his playbook. And he had this great attention to detail. He was always on it, always 100 percent.

"He's become a great coach, all the way around. He demands a lot out of you. I think that's really important with a young, up-and-coming secondary like ours. If you get guys to work on all of the little things early in their careers, that can go a long way."

General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll deserve credit for correctly evaluating this group.

Brandon Browner was a career Canadian Football League corner before getting a chance with the Hawks at the age of 27. Cornerback Richard Sherman was a fifth-round pick in last year's draft.

Safety Earl Thomas came to Seattle in the first round of the 2010 draft. Kam Chancellor was the second safety picked in that same draft, a fifth-round pick.

But Richard, who played for Carroll at USC, deserves credit for developing this young quartet into one of the most feared defensive backfields in football. Three of them — Thomas, Chancellor and Browner — made the Pro Bowl last season.

"Kris Richard is like the glue," said Sherman, who is on the cusp of a Pro Bowl career. "He's the cohesion that keeps everybody together, everybody on their toes. He's always prepared. He does a great job of game-planning and making sure we are completely aware of everything a team likes to do."

In the week leading up to a game, Richard and defensive passing game coordinator Rocky Seto hand out flash cards at meetings, cheat sheets for players to study that act as alerts to their opponents' third-down tendencies. Richard and Seto make sure players study those cards every day.

"He takes us through everything, I mean everything, we might encounter on Sundays," Thomas said. "We do a lot of walk-throughs, a lot of board work. He and coach Seto have done a great job of explaining defenses. There's no gray area. Everybody's on the same page and that breeds confidence in the DB room."

Injuries shortened Richard's playing career. After his last season in 2005 with San Francisco, he became a graduate assistant at USC, working with defensive backs.

"He's a great coach, man," Chancellor said. "He holds us up to a high standard because he knows what we're capable of doing. He teaches us the littlest things, the things you need to know to make you a great player. Most coaches don't look at the little things, because they're looking more at the big picture."

Richard is a teacher. It doesn't matter that these players are professionals and Pro Bowlers. The teaching never ends.

"Kris teaches us," Chancellor said. "He doesn't want us to just be average. He wants us to be great, to be different. The fact that guys made the Pro Bowl is a tribute to him and the things he's taught us. We just take that to the field and play our games."

Chancellor said Richard obsesses about his players' footwork, talks to them about having "clean feet." He preaches the importance of proper tackling. Richard calls it "Hawk tackling." Tackling with their heads up and making the hits legal.

"He makes sure we're totally prepared," Sherman said. "A lot of coaches show you film and do all this. But he shows you the things that you need to see specifically and that really helps.

"I have a high football I.Q. I watch a lot of film. I know tendencies. I know route combinations and things like that, but it definitely helps for guys to learn all those little things, like alerts for alignments and assignments, down and distance."

The Hawks' defensive backfield is made up of disparate personalities. Chancellor and Browner are quiet. Sherman and Thomas are chatty and taunting, and irritating to receivers. But Richard has gotten these mixed personalities to play as a unit. He has molded this group into one of the toughest, most intimidating backfields in football.

"We all feed off each other and make each other accountable," Thomas said. "Our outlook is that we have to get the ball back for the offense."

This is a confident unit that plays with a swagger. No wait, don't call it a swagger. Call it ...

"We're blue-collar, hard-nosed, hardworking, but still a very, very highly confident group," Sherman said. "People call it a swagger. They've been wearing that word out. We play with a lot of belief and faith in what we're doing. Belief and faith, not swagger, that's what we've got."

And they have youth on their side. Imagine what might be, if the Seahawks can keep this unit together.

"At the end of the day, we're all just young guys out here who are hungry," Chancellor said. "Everybody wants to make a play on the ball. Everybody wants to make a big play. You can't call it a swagger anymore. That's already said and done. We're moving on to something bigger and better. We just want to be a great defensive backfield."

An inquisitive coach will lead them there.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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