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--- From BleacherReport.com,
RENTON, Wash. — Kam Chancellor is a training camp ghost, a presence everyone feels but cannot see. For most of camp, the only time Earl Thomas made the practice tape is when he trotted on the field after a play to pat a young defender on the shoulder pads. Byron Maxwell is on the other side of the country, making an average annual salary of $10.5 million and being told by Chip Kelly to shut down the likes of Dez Bryant. Jeremy Lane and Tharold Simon are rehabbing on a side field, but they might as well be in Philly too.
Lesser-known names like Dion Bailey, Steven Terrell, DeShawn Shead, Ronald Martin, Tye Smith and Mohammed Seisay are getting all the action. Hired guns Cary Williams and Will Blackmon are trying to fit in.
Could this be the famed Legion of Boom?
"This is the 2015 edition of the secondary, which has nothing to do with the previous years," said Kris Richard, who went from secondary coach to defensive coordinator in the offseason.
Much of this should work itself out. Injuries will heal. No one expects Chancellor to walk away from a $4.55 million base salary.
Still, the Legion of Boom will be different. What we're seeing in August confirms that the best individual position group in the NFL is evolving. And it is evolving on numerous levels.
This is a strong-willed group of men. But no amount of will is more powerful than the hands of time. Those hands reshape everything, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
It's about more than changing faces in the Seahawks secondary; it's also about maturing individuals.
"We've come a long way since we were first named the LoB in 2012," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "We were just a bunch of unknowns then."
In those days, it mostly was about backpedaling and breaking on the pass. It has become much more complicated since the hunters have become the hunted. There are more threats within—attrition, envy, self-satisfaction and physical breakdowns. There also are more threats outside the walls of the VMAC Center, as opponents keep working harder to find cracks. And there are life changes. Sherman and Thomas are no longer footloose and fancy-free young men. Both are fathers with responsibilities beyond the game.
Thomas now makes an average of $10 million a year, more than any other safety in the league, and Sherman's contract calls for him to make $14 million a year. Since signing their deals before last season, neither lost the slightest edge. But no one would argue that the dynamic is the same.
There are haves and have-nots within the LoB, and Chancellor, who signed a five-year deal in 2013, obviously feels like he is somewhere in between. There is chatter in the locker room, and there are texts.
He got his, why didn't you get yours?
They aren't treating you right, brother.
Your career could be over tomorrow. Get the money when you can.
"I think the business changes things," Thomas said. "We have so many great players here, it's like a Hall of Fame team. So there are going to be money issues."
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll concurs. But so far, he believes the financial impact on the group has been beneficial.
"The three guys who have received contracts [Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor] have only played better and been more focused and more determined," Carroll said. "I don't know if they are trying to prove they were worthy of it or what. But not only in their play, in their demeanor and in their approach, they have grown. It's thrilling to see that happen. They have become mature and accepted the responsibility of their compensation."
With so much of the pie consumed by a few, there is less of the pie for others. Since 2012, the LoB has seen 16 of its members sign with other teams. Among those who departed: Brandon Browner to the Patriots (now Saints), Ron Parker to the Chiefs and Walter Thurmond to the Giants (now Eagles).
The Seahawks' ability to acquire and develop replacements has been remarkable—and a testament to the self-sustaining system Carroll, a former secondary coach, has been implementing for three decades. The system has never been more critical to a team.
If Seahawks defensive backs wore no numbers or names on their jerseys in practice, it would be difficult—impossible in some cases—to tell them apart by their footwork and technique. Carroll was watching practice cutups the other day when he noticed the consistency from player to player. He mentioned it in a player meeting.
Next time you watch Seattle, pay attention to the cornerbacks' footwork on bump and runs. At the snap, the corner waits for the receiver to release. He never lunges forward. He step-kicks with his left foot, then his right foot shuffles to it. Then he puts two hands—not one—on the offensive player. And the cornerback stays in front of the receiver.
Members of the LoB talk about keeping their feet quiet and being patient.
"There is a lot of attention to detail here, correcting little things, working on things that can be huge in big-game situations," said Williams, who is on his fourth NFL team. "Like being patient at the line of scrimmage as a defensive back, not trying to do too much, allowing things to come to you, rather than doing your own thing."
Stephen Brashear/Associated Press
Sherman made it to two Pro Bowls the same way former Vikings cornerback Carl Lee made it to three Pro Bowls in the 1980s. Eric Davis and Ty Law used the same technique as well. And safeties like Merton Hanks, Ronnie Lott and Lawyer Milloy all played with the same style the current Seahawks safeties are playing. Carroll coached them all.
Carroll credits Richard for his hands-on work with the secondary. A former USC cornerback under Carroll, Richard was the Seahawks defensive backs coach from the onset of the LoB. This year, he was moved to defensive coordinator to replace Dan Quinn, now the head coach of the Falcons. And even though the Seahawks hired Andre Curtis and Chris Cash to replace Richard, the new defensive coordinator is not abandoning his LoB. Richard still meets with the secondary and oversees the unit.
"I couldn't afford to remove him because he is too good," Carroll said. "I need him to stay connected with it."
Under Carroll, the Seahawks' defensive backs have played the same techniques and coverages over and over and over. That is not likely to change.
"We've been an open book for five years," Sherman said. "Our scheme isn't complex. It isn't hard to figure out what we are in. Teams just have a hard time dealing with it. It's easy to understand what we're doing, but it's hard to beat it."
The last time we saw the LoB competing in earnest, the Patriots did a number on the unit, scoring 14 points in less than eight minutes of the Super Bowl to overcome a 10-point deficit. They did it with a lot of short, quick passes, but it's not like that provided a blueprint that can work for every team. At the time, the Seahawks were without two injured players, Lane and Simon. And Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor were playing with significant injuries.
In the offseason, Thomas had surgery to repair a torn labrum. He just returned to practice this week and is still not cleared for contact, but the team is hopeful he will be ready for the season opener. Asked if his shoulder could affect his play, Thomas said, "I'm not sure. I guess we'll have to see."
Sherman elected not to have Tommy John surgery to repair ligaments in his elbow. He said his elbow is not a factor now. Chancellor also did not have surgery on a torn medial collateral ligament.
The Seahawks need these three players to be healthy and available, because as much as the system can prop up fill-ins, these players have unique talents. They are young enough (Sherman and Chancellor are 27, Thomas is 26) that wear and tear is not an issue. But significant injuries can diminish players of any age.
The maturing secondary is facing the new season with the mindset that it can overcome challenges as long as the players rely on one another. After losing in Kansas City last November, the Seahawks were 6-4 and not playing like an elite team. Then Chancellor gave an impassioned speech in which he talked about LoB not standing for Legion of Boom, but "Love our Brother." The Seahawks did not lose another game until the Super Bowl.
"You might refer to them as the Legion of Boom, but I don't see that happening so much here anymore," Carroll said. "I see them talking about the brotherhood. What once was a connecting vibe for those guys as they were growing up and trying to get going, they have extended their influence around the team, which is really cool. Kam had a lot to do with that, as did Richard and Earl. They have grown up together and developed a great respect for one another and camaraderie. It became a great strength for them. It has been great to watch."
Scott Eklund/Associated Press
When Dion Bailey was signed by the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent last year, he was "star struck" by Thomas. In the ensuing months, Thomas became a mentor. Bailey said Thomas told him to not focus so much on offensive indicators but to use his instincts more.
"He helped me free myself," said Bailey, who has been running with the first team for much of training camp.
The experience has been just as rewarding for Thomas.
"It's not about Legion of Boom," he said. "It's about loving our brothers. Everything we do with each other is coming from pure feelings, straight love. We want to see the best for everyone else. When somebody makes a great play, you see how excited we are. When you see how hard the backups want it, it speaks to my heart. I want to do everything I possibly can to put them in the best position."
Similarly, Williams spent a lot of time with Sherman in his effort to understand what is expected of him and how to be his best. He also said Sherman motivated him—and put him at peace when he has been frustrated.
"I see why they call it Love our Brothers," Williams said. "It's a 'we' instead of 'me' type situation. You are trying to do it for the guy next to you rather than trying to get your own accolades."
The bonds are formed in the locker room and on the field, and they are strengthened away from football. The LoB watched the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight at Sherman's home, which they call "the White House." They go boating on Lake Chelan, have barbecues, attend each other's charity events and even take group vacations.
Their mentoring isn't just about football. Bailey said Sherman helped him with life advice, explaining the advantages of buying versus renting, showing him how credit ratings work and teaching him how to build his brand.
During his holdout, Chancellor has been helping out remotely, texting young members of the LoB after reviewing practice tape. Thomas also has been in regular communication with Chancellor, but he doesn't want to wear him out.
"I want to give him his space, and not keep saying, 'Come home, come home, come home,'" he said. "It has been difficult not having Kam here, his presence. We started this thing together. We want to keep establishing what we are building. We don't want to be without him. I think Kam deserves [more money]. You can't name a better strong safety in the league, and he's not even top 10 for getting paid. So I support him and I'm behind him."
Assuming Chancellor returns and plays as he has in the past, it is not unreasonable to suspect, as Carroll does, that the best may be yet to come for the LoB. Given their youth, none of these players should have peaked yet. Williams is fitting in well. The young players are coming on.
And the LoB connection is more powerful than ever.
John Froschauer/Associated Press
"We all have the same mentality now," Thomas said. "When we are communicating and moving, we do it as one. It's like everything is tied together with a string."
In this era, it's rare for a core group of players to stay together for an extended period of time. But there is no question continuity is an advantage.
"Bill Walsh used to say it takes five years before you can benefit from the connection you have," Carroll said. "It's because you need to log enough stuff to have a reservoir of experiences to draw from. I think there is something to that. These guys are just getting going. They have so much confidence from their success and their knowledge and their ability to help one another. They have a chance to be a very extraordinary group."
Of course they have been for quite some time. Many regard them as the best secondary in history. Carroll foresees the LoB becoming even more legendary by going on an interception binge one of these years. In the last couple of seasons, opponents have become shy about challenging Seahawks cornerbacks on the outside.
It will be interesting to see if the trend continues. Because this is not the same LoB.
Dan Pompei | bleacherreport.com | August 21, 2015
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