With the announcement this week that Marcus Trufant has been placed on IR and will be out for the remainder of the season, a young remaining crop of corners now get their chance to show that they're starting NFL material. The announcement also means that we may have seen Trufant play his last game as a Seattle Seahawk. While those of us northwest natives (and WSU alum, like me - shhhh) who have followed Trufant's career are saddened by the possibility of him being done here, fans should be excited for the opportunity to get a strong, long look at some of the young promising talent in this secondary.
This week is an ideal one to see guys like Walter Thurmond III and Richard Sherman get significant playing time at corner, particularly due to the fact that the Cleveland Browns have one of the league's weaker groups at receiver, and a quarterback who struggles to get the ball down field.
Walter Thurmond will get the start in Trufant's place at left corner, and will move to the inside for 3 and 4 receiver sets with Sherman coming in to take the outside in those same sets.
Thurmond, while smaller than Sherman (Sherman 6'3, Thurmond 5'11), is an aggressive corner who isn't afraid to get his hands up and jam at the line. At the same time, he has the hip quickness and foot agility to stay with a man underneath or from the slot, and can plant and drive to close on the ball if he's playing off. His versatility will allow him to bump with a big, physical receiver like rookie Greg Little (UNC - 6'2, 225lbs), and still move inside to man up on the quicker, faster Josh Cribbs. He can crowd a guy or give him a cushion and still make a play on the ball in either case. Having a guy with this type of versatility allows the 'Hawks to show a variety of looks on defense, freeing up linebackers and safeties to get involved in blitzes or contain plays to keep mobile QBs like Colt McCoy from getting outside the pocket where he can cause the most damage.
Richard Sherman is a completely different corner than Thurmond, yet he also provides this defense with some versatility that even Trufant didn't. His height (6'3) would give viewers the impression that he's a strict press corner, but he possesses surprisingly quick hips to turn and run, and better straight line speed than many give him credit for. What appears to be the most impressive physical trait to me in watching him closely in preseason, is his ability to get up to speed quickly despite being so long. This is unusual for big, long-striding corners as many of them take some time to really get going. Brandon Browner is a good example of that. Browner relies heavily on his jam to slow his opponent down because he's not as quick to get up to full speed. Sherman is a gifted athlete who can run with a lot of receivers in this league, and redirect with some suddenness. What remains untested with Sherman is his ability to close on the football. If he's playing with a cushion, how quickly can he plant and drive to break up a play in front of him, and just how much cushion can he afford?
McCoy's lack of arm strength combined with the inexperience of his receiving corps will be a good starting point for these young corners to establish some timing and really see where they're at in their development.
Having said all that, the 2012 NFL Draft crop is extremely strong in cornerback talent, and with Pete Carroll already showing he's willing to let anyone compete for a starting role (except Charlie Whitehurst), neither of these guys can afford to waste any time if they want to be a mainstay starter on this defense for years to come. Sunday will be huge for both.
Thurmond is a bit more battle tested than Sherman, but let's face it - both guys are in a position they haven't been in yet as NFL players - both have the chance to compete for a long-time starting role on this team, and the game this week in Cleveland should present a great opportunity for one of them to emerge.