RENTON, Wash. (AP) — A look at the top five players right now in the Seattle Seahawks' secondary reveals a truth about why their defense has been so successful.
The Seahawks (12-2) have an uncanny knack for drafting players in the later rounds and being able to develop them into starters. And not just adequate players, but All-Pros in some cases.
"We've done a really nice job of picking up guys that fit. And then we've done a nice job of coaching," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "(Defensive back coaches) Kris Richard and Rocky (Seto), that take care of those guys, have done a great job of molding those guys into the kind of style that we like. It's a joint venture to get that done. But the guys have come through in great fashion."
The latest example of what Seattle has done in developing those late draft picks is the recent play of cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane. The two sixth-round selections waited for their opportunities and are now thriving on the field.
Maxwell took over as the starter at cornerback opposite Richard Sherman when Walter Thurmond was suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Thurmond had been filling in for Brandon Browner, who suffered a groin injury in Week 10 at Atlanta and then was suspended Wednesday, ending his season. With both players out, Lane became Seattle's fifth defensive back used in passing situations.
Maxwell and Lane have played well enough that when Thurmond returns from his suspension next week, there is no guarantee that either spot is his. Pass-happy New Orleans was stymied by the Seahawks' defense and Maxwell had an interception, five tackles and three pass breakups a week later against San Francisco.
Then Maxwell stepped into the spotlight last Sunday against the Giants with two of the Seahawks' five interceptions.
"There are no weak links. That's something that we decide on in our room at the beginning before we start to play football," Richard said. "There is that saying 'You're only as strong as your weak link.' Well, how about no weak links? How strong are you then? There is no such thing as a weak link. You're just waiting your turn."
Maxwell and Lane highlight what Seattle has been able to accomplish in the secondary and how the ability to develop the late-round picks has given the Seahawks flexibility to address needs in other areas. Four of the top five players in Seattle's secondary were drafted in the fifth or sixth rounds. Sherman and strong safety Kam Chancellor were fifth-round selections to go along with Maxwell and Lane.
Free safety Earl Thomas, an All-Pro last season, is the outlier: He was a first-round pick in 2010.
"When you have guys that show great effort like (Maxwell) and Jeremy Lane have shown you're going to have a lot of success," Thomas said.
Carroll said it's a combination of scouting and coaching that's allowed the Seahawks to turn these late picks into productive starters. The Seahawks have a system of how they want their defensive backs to play and try to find players to fit.
That's meant the Seahawks chances on unique players. Sherman had only a couple of seasons of experience as a cornerback when he was selected in the fifth round in 2011. Lane played at Football Championship Subdivision Northwestern State in Louisiana and didn't have the major exposure.
Maxwell got a taste of being a starter last season when Browner was suspended four games for a performance enhancing substances violation and carried that experience into this chance.
"When you get in there the game slows down so your technique gets better," Maxwell said. "Even at the beginning of the season the technique isn't as good as it is now. And just playing disciplined ball and everything slowing down."
Notes: WR Percy Harvin (hip) did not practice Wednesday and there remains no prognosis for when he will return to action. Harvin has played just once this season, in Week 11 against Minnesota. ... TE Zach Miller (ribs), SS Kam Chancellor (quad) also sat out Wednesday's practice.