Seattle's safeties are something special

Posted: January 31, 2014

JERSEY CITY, N.J. - Dan Quinn left his job as Seattle Seahawks defensive line coach in 2010 and returned this season as a defensive coordinator. What struck him about the defense during his two years away from the team was the development of safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

"When they were two rookies together, I certainly had the view to say, 'These two guys are going to be special,' " Quinn said. "But those two guys in specific really embodied the development of what you can do as a player, and how they've taken their game from where they began."

Seattle's safety tandem is the best in the NFL and will need to play well against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Both safeties are Pro Bowlers who play distinct styles and complement each other. Thomas has speed that's rare for a safety; Chancellor has rare size for the position.

For Eagles fans, the safeties are a difficult reminder of a missed opportunity. The Eagles have been searching for safeties since Brian Dawkins left, and both Thomas and Chancellor were available in the 2010 draft. The Eagles passed on Thomas in the first round to take Brandon Graham. They passed on Chancellor seven times before the Seahawks swiped him in the fifth round with the 133d overall pick.

Thomas thought he was going to the Eagles when Graham's name was called. Based on positions, the Eagles made an understandable move: Pass rushers are valued more than defensive backs.

Thomas said his personality was misinterpreted as quiet leading up to the draft, although even his supporters might not have predicted his transformation into one of the NFL's finest defensive players. He's a candidate for NFL defensive player of the year along with Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

"I think being on the same team might hurt us a little bit. But at the same time, what a way to do it," Thomas said. "The central theme is competition, and it is crazy that two guys on the same defense are even up for this award."

Thomas believes he's part of a new generation of safeties, inspired by watching Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu for the last decade. Thomas had 105 tackles, five interceptions, and two forced fumbles this season. However, he said to fully understand what he can do, one must examine film with a football Ph.D.

"If you really look at the film this whole year, you'll understand what I'm saying," Thomas said. "They don't show those kind of highlights, but it's a highlight every game: making a crazy hard tackle look so easy in the open field, just making a crazy impact play to switch the momentum."

Asked who else in the game could be considered in his class, Thomas said there is no one else.

"As far as the range? Being able to make a tackle from 15 yards deep and keep it a 4-yard gain?" Thomas said. "I don't think so."

Chancellor, who is 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, plays a different style. He's a hard hitter who can play in the box, almost able to fill the role of an extra linebacker. But he has the coverage skills to play against receivers and tight ends, too.

Chancellor finished with 99 tackles and three interceptions this season, and he added an interception in the NFC championship game. He had starred at Virginia Tech, but there were questions about how he would fit in the NFL.

"Being in college playing strong safety, free safety, and corner, I've had the best of all worlds," Chancellor said. "I've been on the island. I've been in the box. I've been in deep field. I've been checking guys in slot receivers. I've been doing it all for a while now."


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