Even in the high-profile, look-at-me NFL, selflessness pays off.
At least it sure has for the Seahawks’ newest starter.
No one drafted DeShawn Shead out of Portland State in 2012. The Seahawks signed the defensive back as a rookie free agent to their practice squad for most of that season. They put him on the active roster in early December.
In the two-plus seasons since, Shead has played on all four special-teams units: kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return. He’s played free safety and strong safety. He’s been the fifth, nickel defensive back inside against slot receivers.
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Now, in this eighth edition of DeShawn Shead, he’s replaced Cary Williams as the Seahawks’ starting right cornerback. Shead will make his second career start there Sunday when Seattle (6-5) plays at NFC North-leading Minnesota (8-3).
“Definitely … I’m a big believer in hard work paying off,” Shead said. “I go out there and just try to do my job every day, not worry about any distractions. Just go out there and work hard — and one way or another hard work pays off. I’m a big believer in that.
“And it’s finally paying off.”
He made his first NFL start at cornerback in last weekend’s win against Pittsburgh. He was, in the word of coach Pete Carroll, “fantastic.” He knocked down three deep passes as the Steelers’ relentlessly targeted the new guy instead of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman.
Shead played a whopping 93 total snaps — every one of the defensive ones, plus 13 more on special teams. Nobody on the Seahawks played more than he did against the Steelers.
“You absolutely love the story, because it’s a testament to the commitment of faith, of trust, and preparation. He’s always kept himself ready,” said Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard, who as the team’s previous defensive-backs coach helped find and develop Shead to do just about everything but line the field before practices and games.
“You’re talking about a guy two years ago wasn’t on our team, was on the practice squad. Then he stepped into the Super Bowl, he played some reps in the Super Bowl, then kind of took off after that. He’s been a backup for us. He’s been a role player for us. And he’s kind of just waited, and got hardened by it all is really what it is.”
Not ticked-off, but hardened. Just wise. Or wiser. The thoughtful Shead was an Academic All-Big Sky selection while at Portland State.
“Not to the fact that where he got bitter or anything,” Richard agreed, “but he just kind of figured out how the NFL works. And when you get your opportunity how you have to seize it.”
Consider Shead as having seized it.
The Seahawks gave Williams, a former Super Bowl starter for Baltimore, a three-year, $18 million contract in free agency during March to sign him from Philadelphia. He was to replace departed free agent Byron Maxwell as the starter opposite Sherman. But Williams first struggled mightily with Seattle’s “step-kick” footwork technique of jamming at the line and then turning and running with receivers off it. After 10 starts of Williams blowing the same zone coverages, the Seahawks turned to Shead.
They are so turned off of Williams that they are paying him $3.5 million guaranteed this season to be inactive and in street clothes last weekend against the Steelers and possibly inactive at Minnesota. His contract is not guaranteed beyond this season, so Shead could have the job entering next offseason, too.
Unlike Williams, Shead has a more global view of the Seahawks’ defensive system.
“Playing safety, playing nickel, playing corner, that definitely helps my overall knowledge of the game,” Shead said.
It also helps that’s he’s so popular. Teammates almost fall over themselves to help him, and coaches do the same in praising him. While it’s true the Seahawks want every teammate to succeed, there is a palpable vibe they really want Shead to.
“He’s a guy that can do it all. He’s a jack of all trades and we really appreciate having him,” Sherman said. “We’ve been in some tight spots this year, where we were short on guys. Shead came in and he can play anything. If one of our (line)backers went down, I’m sure he could play Mike (middle linebacker) for a couple snaps for us. He’s that kind of player. And he’s selfless.
“It takes a selfless attitude to be that guy, to have to play safety, and then nickel, and then free — and then start at the corner because you don’t have a job. You don’t really have a specific job title. You just get in where you fit in. For him to take that in stride is admirable.”
Last weekend against Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Pittsburgh’s 59-pass, 490-yard onslaught was Shead’s first time playing a complete game at cornerback since his junior season at Portland State, Nov. 6, 2010, against Sacramento State.
He had been a cornerback for his first three college seasons, but teams quit throwing his way. So for the final two games of that junior season his coaches moved Shead to strong safety, where he could roam to the ball more and make more tackles against running games. His entire senior season he played safety.
That’s why the help Sherman and the entire secondary give Shead is even more useful as he plays wherever and whenever needed.
“Oh, very helpful. I’ve picked up a lot of my game, and the player I am today, from him,” Shead said of Sherman. “Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, they’ve all helped me become the player that I am today.
“When I am at corner, Richard Sherman helps me on my technique, the step-kick technique, and just knowledge on what to do in the game situations.
“I’ve got a great supporting cast. That makes the transition easier.”
SUCCESSFUL SURGERY FOR “UNCOMFORTABLE” GRAHAM
An “uncomfortable” tight end Jimmy Graham had a successful yet “difficult” surgery on Wednesday, Carroll said Friday. It repaired a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee.
“Everything, as the doctors report, went really well,” Carroll said. “He was uncomfortable, I know, with the next couple days (following surgery). He was fighting through it. … But looking forward to his return and all that. His spirits are looking ahead and all that.
“But it was a difficult surgery for him.”
Carroll has said multiple times this week Graham will be back playing for the start of the 2016 season.
RICHARDSON’S HAMSTRING NOT HEALING
Wide receiver Paul Richardson is not only out for Sunday’s game at Minnesota because of a hamstring injury that won’t heal, but the speedy second-round draft choice from 2014 is also unlikely to play next week at Baltimore, Carroll said.
The coach didn’t rule out Richardson going on injured reserve so Seattle can get another, healthier wide receiver — Kasen Williams off the practice squad, perhaps — onto the active roster for upcoming games.
DT Jordan Hill will not play in Minnesota because of an unspecified toe injury. Fellow DL Demarcus Dobbs will be out because of a concussion. That means A.J. Francis, the part-time Uber driver Seattle signed off waivers from Miami last month, then cut and re-signed, will play against the Vikings backing up tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Brandon Mebane. “He plays big. We think he will hold the point real well,” Carroll said of Francis, who came off the practice squad Monday to take Graham’s place on the active roster. … DB Marcus Burley (sprained ankle) is questionable, but Carroll said he expects him to play.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle