Kelcie McCray is like everyone else who’s been around Kam Chancellor, the thumping player and intimidating, indestructible persona, for more than a minute.
He’s never expects Chancellor to get hurt.
So last weekend at Baltimore, McCray was, in his word, shocked. He had to enter the game at strong safety for the injured, five-year mainstay in the middle of the Seahawks’ defense.
“You know what? That’s crazy (you’d say that) because it was a shock,” McCray said Friday. “You don’t look at him as a guy that’s getting hurt.”
It looks and sounds like McCray will make his first career start at strong safety on Sunday against Cleveland because Chancellor remains injured. He has a bruised tailbone. McCray took all the first-team snaps at practice this week.
Following Friday’s indoor practice at team headquarters, coach Pete Carroll said Chancellor’s availability will be a game-time decision. The hard hitter and team leader hasn’t practiced all week. He bruised his backside during the second quarter of the 35-6 win over the Ravens.
“He’s questionable right now. We’ll wait until all the way up until game time to see if he can bounce back,” Carroll said.
Chancellor is certainly so well-acquainted with Seattle’s defensive system that he doesn’t need to practice to play. But this may be the week to get him fully healthy for the final push by the Seahawks (8-5) toward the playoffs.
Two regular-season games remain after this one against the 3-10 Browns: Home against St. Louis (6-8) next weekend and at NFC West-leading Arizona (11-2) on Jan. 4.
Coming up to the line of scrimmage to stop the run is what the Seahawks’ scheme asks of the strong safety. McCray said Seattle’s defense asks that more than Kansas City’s, Tampa Bay’s and Miami’s did when he played safety for those teams from 2012 through last season.
But Cleveland has the league’s 30th-ranked rushing offense.
Then again, it may indeed matter who is at strong safety for Seattle on Sunday. The Browns also feature the tight end. A lot. Gary Barnidge leads them with 65 catches and eight touchdowns. Tight ends have given the Seahawks’ defense problems all season, during Chancellor’s holdout and after his return. And tight ends are a primary responsibility of the safeties.
McCray said his practice and reserve-playing times at strong and free safety were “about 50-50” with the Chiefs, Buccaneers and Dolphins.
The Seahawks traded a fifth-round draft choice to Kansas City at the end of the preseason to get McCray because they valued the former three-year quarterback at Hardaway High School in Columbus, Georgia, for his standout special-teams play. All season the Seahawks have been impressed with the 6-foot-1, 205-pound McCray’s ability to tackle in the open field — no small feat on full-speed punt and kickoff returns on which he’s sprinting more than half the field.
“He had great range, really good speed, and he played really good in space,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. “Those are all attributes that we’re looking for in regards to a safety. And the simple fact that when he puts his body on people, he tackles really well; they go down.”
Richard sounds fine with McCray if he has to start for the first time in his 45-game NFL career, based on what the defense’s leader saw last week at Baltimore in the 2½ quarters that McCray played in place of Chancellor.
“He did a really good job,” Richard said. “Aside from the fact that he maintained his role on special teams, and then came out and continued to stand up for us on defense. The guy is in great shape, and he knows what to do. He’s a true professional in regards to the fact that he’s always preparing himself to be ready to play.”
At least this week, McCray is going to have more than one series to prepare to replace Chancellor.
“Yeah, it’s great having a full week, so it’s not a surprise to me going into the game,” he McCray said. “I’ve definitely had all the looks, so that’s a big help.”
MUM ON LEAD RUNNER
As usual on a Friday, Carroll was coy about who will be the lead rusher Sunday.
Bryce Brown was with the team in November and was inactive for two games before the Seahawks released him. They re-signed the 24-year old on Tuesday.
Christine Michael, the 2013 second-round draft choice who Seattle traded to Dallas in September and re-signed Wednesday, has by all accounts a new attitude. He seems to realize this might be his last chance in the league.
Derrick Coleman, usually the fullback, also has gotten practice time at tailback this week.
“This chance right now is something he’s really pumped about, too,” Carroll said of Coleman. “We’ll see how much he gets.”
The potpourri of backs is because Marshawn Lynch is “off site” — Carroll’s words — rehabilitating after Nov. 25 abdominal surgery.
And because rookie running back Thomas Rawls, who had gained 830 yards, went on injured reserve this week with a broken ankle and torn ligaments.
“You’ll find out at game time how we’re going to do it,” Carroll said. “Guys really, really practiced hard this week, and they know that they’re competing for their playing time. It’s going to be fun to see how they do. … We’ll show you what happens at game time.”
Coaches gave up on Michael — drafted to be Lynch’s eventual heir — after two frustrating seasons and this summer’s training camp. Dallas cut him this fall, then Washington signed him to its practice squad before releasing him this week.
“He’s very serious about the opportunity. Worked really hard, met extra to make sure he could catch up. He did pick everything back up very quickly,” Carroll said about Michael. “He’s very comfortable in the offense and all of that, so that’s really a good sign. Part of the reason for picking him up, we knew he could jump in like that. He had a very good week and looks very quick. He’s really hungry and ready to go.
“He hasn’t had really enough time; we’ve never really had enough chances to find out how he would do over the long haul. Maybe this is that opportunity for him.”
Though DeShawn Shead is listed as questionable, coach Pete Carroll said he will start at right cornerback against the Browns. Shead has made a speedy recovery from a sprained ankle he sustained during the win at Baltimore. … TE Luke Willson has wowed coaches with how quickly he got back from last weekend’s injury to his ribs, which Carroll described as more than a bruise. Willson is going to play, as well. “I don’t know how they got back so fast,” Carroll said of Shead and Willson. … DT Jordan Hill is out for the third consecutive game. The coach said Hill has a partial tear is his big toe. Carroll hopes to have him back next weekend against the Rams. … Backup TE Anthony McCoy is out for Sunday after sustaining a high-ankle sprain in his season debut last weekend.