Hawks’ gems may not shine as bright if tests prove positive

November 26, 2012 

It took only a moment Sunday for the latest in a string of frustrating road defeats to look like a minor inconvenience in the mixed-up world of the Seattle Seahawks.

Losing a game at Miami that was there to win? Don’t sweat the small stuff. The Hawks have bigger fish to fry than the Dolphins’ debacle.

The most essential components of any modern-football defense are having cornerbacks who are able to put smothering coverage on pass receivers, and with Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, the Seahawks had two of the best in the business. The past tense – had – must be emphasized: Sherman and Browner are facing four game suspensions, effective immediately, after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Sherman and Browner will be allowed to appeal the suspensions, but if the PED test results are upheld, the Seahawks haven’t merely lost a pair of dominant players at a premium position. The team has lost the essence of its identity.

Sherman and Browner embodied the rescued-from-the-scrapheap philosophy of roster building espoused by coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.

Sherman, a fifth-round pick from Stanford, was regarded as no better than a standard-issue wide receiver in the 2011 NFL draft. The Seahawks saw his 6-foot-3 body, and his cat-quick reflexes, and converted him into the gifted cornerback recently named NFL defensive player of the week.

Browner has represented an even more improbable success story: The Oregon State product was obtained as a free-agent outcast from the Canadian Football League. The Hawks’ faith in the 6-4 corner paid off with a Pro Bowl effort last season.

Carroll has yet to shred his reputation as a brilliant college coach who’s struggling to reinvent himself in the NFL, but even his most persistent critics has to admit he has a knack for unearthing gems such as Sherman and Browner.

Now the gems are under a microscope, and a question persists: Are they fraudulent?

It’s possible the test results were tainted. (Recall the curious sequence of events accompanying the positive PED sample of 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun.) It’s possible there was a lab mix-up. It’s possible Sherman and Browner are innocent victims of a scientific procedure known to be flawed.

Here’s the problem: If it’s just Sherman who tests positive, it’s a tough break, but, hey, that’s just one lab result.

If it’s just Browner who tests positive, same thing. It’s just one lab result.

But two of them? At the same time?

Uh, oh.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went through this drill earlier this season, when the suspensions of cornerbacks Eric Wright and Aqib Talib overlapped. The suspensions stuck. (Talib has since been traded to the New England Patriots.)

The Bucs weathered the crisis and remain in contention for a playoff berth. Can the Seahawks be as resilient?

If Sherman is lost for four games, his apparent substitute at right cornerback is veteran Marcus Trufant. If Browner is lost for four games, he’ll be replaced on the left side by Walter Thurmond.

Trufant was on the field Sunday during the fourth quarter from hell when he was beaten on two long passes to the Dolphins’ Davone Bess. Thurmond, who spent last winter recovering from a broken fibula re-injured in March, didn’t suit up. He hasn’t played a down in 2012.

Before kickoff at Miami, the Seahawks boasted the league’s deepest secondary. By the time they returned home, depth in the secondary was a luxury trumped by a slightly more urgent matter: survival.

For those of you in the glass-half-full camp, the 2012 San Francisco Giants worked through a PED-related suspension of their best hitter, Melky Cabrera. The Giants took a deep breath, surveyed the horizon, and went on to win the World Series. Cabrera was eligible to participate in the postseason, by the way, but the team decided to carry on without him.

If Sherman and Browner fail to win their appeals, would the Seahawks be as reluctant to welcome them back as the Giants were with Cabrera?

Not a chance. They’ll be in uniform within a tenth of a second of the suspension’s conclusion, and they’ll do so with the full blessings of their coach.

Carroll radiates positive vibes. Now the challenge for “Positive Pete” is to find the positive in positive test results.

Sherman and Brandon were thought to be overlooked but admirable athletes exemplifying the grit of an overlooked but admirable football team, and they’ve been exposed as cheaters.

The temptation, with these cases under appeal, is to overreact. Let’s be reasonable: It’s not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of Seattle’s playoff hopes.

It’s just the end of the way I thought of Pete Carroll’s gritty, admirable Seahawks.

john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com

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