A common but wholly subjective means of rating overall athletic ability on the highest level is when the Olympic decathlon champion gets labeled “The World’s Greatest Athlete.”
By that measure, DeShawn Shead should be considered the Most Athletic Seahawk.
And if he isn’t, he’s surely the most versatile.
Compared with the decathlon, in which he excelled in college at Portland State (scoring nearly 7,000 points), Shead seems to be slacking with the Hawks, playing “only” every secondary position and serving as a special-teams ace.
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He’s been widely lauded for that versatility and his ever-readiness to step in for injured or ineffective starters. But an even more telling measurement of Shead’s value to the Seahawks comes in the comments of his teammates.
“He’s been a great Seahawk,” coach Pete Carroll said of Shead’s rise from undrafted prospect to practice squad to active roster and now to starting cornerback.
Perhaps the most meaningful evaluation of Shead came from All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor when asked about Shead’s contributions.
“He’s one of us,” Chancellor said.
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“He has the whole thing; the swagger, the edge, the competitiveness, all those things,” Chancellor said. “He wasn’t drafted, so he came from the bottom like a lot of us, so he understands what it takes.”
Shead got his first start of the season in the second game, at Green Bay, playing strong safety because Chancellor was still holding out and Dion Bailey was a liability in the opener at St. Louis. He met the challenge with eight tackles.
Shead started at cornerback the last two games against Pittsburgh and Minnesota when the Seahawks wearied of former starter Cary Williams. Shead had 10 tackles against the Steelers and four pass breakups. He was targeted as the new man in the secondary, and he responded with a big game.
At Minnesota, his preparation and tackling ability was highlighted when speedy Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs came his way on an end-around, and Shead not only filled his responsibility of staying home, but he also dragged down Diggs with an impressive open-field tackle.
Few knew much about Shead as he worked his way up through the practice squad. He drew the most public attention after the win over Denver early last season when he proposed to his now-wife on the field.
The response “went global” he said, having heard from injured teammate Jesse Williams, who was rehabbing in Australia at the time.
Shead and his wife, Jessica, now have a daughter, Savannah.
And now, with his varied defensive and special teams duties, Shead’s on the field more than anybody.
“He got thrown into the fire and he’s handled himself well,” Chancellor said. “He’s a guy who has mastered all positions; he knows them all.”
Fellow cornerback Richard Sherman called Shead “a jack of all trades,” and noted, he’s “the only guy who has played cornerback, safety and nickel in the same game.”
The demands of learning the assignments at positions all over the field is taxing, but Shead is equipped, having been a national honors student in high school, and making all-academic teams at Portland State.
But it takes time. Shead outlined his typical day: being in the building by 6:30 a.m., warming up and stretching, and then studying film all before the usual meetings and practices.
“I think I’m definitely where I am because of my hard work, day in and day out,” Shead said. “Trying to be the first one here and the last one to leave, grinding away and finding my way.”
On the punt team, alone, Shead has been “the gunner, the right wing and the personal protector,” he said. “And I play all over on the front line on kickoff return. The mental preparation is the biggest thing; before you can play all those positions, you have to know what you’re supposed to do.”
Defensive coordinator Kris Richard claimed the roots of Shead’s value go beyond the athleticism, down to that dedication to preparation and to his ability to stay in top shape and healthy.
“You absolutely love (Shead’s) story because it’s a testament to the commitment of faith, of trust and preparation,” Richard said.
It’s also a vivid, if increasingly redundant, example of the Seahawks’ approach that Carroll talked about this week when asked about the prevalence of undrafted players becoming starters or stars in Seattle.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from or what your draft number was or any of that kind of stuff,” Carroll said.
Chancellor claimed that Shead hasn’t changed, only his opportunities.
“He’s always been the person he is, and has always had the talent,” Chancellor said. “Now he’s got the chance to show it.”