Matt Bowen, a former NFL defensive back and now columnist at the National Football Post, recently prefaced an article on the prospect of the Cowboys trading Mike Jenkins: "I wouldn't do it, because giving away depth in the secondary will get you in trouble in today's game. The way I see it, you need three safeties that can align at both free and strong (plus contribute on special teams) and four (or five) corners in uniform on Sundays to fill multiple roles in your defensive sub packages."
This depth in the defensive secondary is something we've talked about here in the last few months - during the pre-draft period, free agency, and now as we attempt to predict the Seahawks final 53-man roster and their scheme tendencies next season. In my piece that talked about defensive sub-packages, I shared a quote by Greg Cosell that sheds some light on the reason the Seahawks seem to be stockpiling defensive backs in the draft - Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Mark Legree, Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane and Winston Guy in the last three seasons, plus several more in free agency, waiver claims, and rookie free agency. Said Cosell, "The later you go in the draft the more holes, limitations, flaws a player has. Success becomes a function of how he's utilized. In era of sub-packages a lot of players contribute, even if they play 12-15 snaps per game. Often the key is finding/defining a role."
Though the Seahawks got away, mostly, from the seven-defensive back formation known as the Bandit in 2011 due to injuries at cornerback/nickelback, I can see them doing more and more with nickel, dime, and bandit sub-packages this season, especially when going up against teams like New England, Green Bay, and Detroit - teams that spread things out and live on their passing game. Luckily, going into 2012, the depth in the Seahawks' secondary is pretty damn impressive, even more so if Walter Thurmond can get back and stay healthy in the next few months.
As Tim Hasselbeck recently put it, "When Marcus Trufant is your fourth corner, that's a good thing. That is a very good thing in terms of depth for your secondary." Bowen states that he'd keep at least three safeties that can line up free or strong, plus four or five corners to be suited up on any given gameday, - or at least eight total defensive backs (I would guess the Seahawks will keep more like ten DBs). Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are the two starting safeties, with Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman the likely starters at corner. With Byron Maxwell, Winston Guy, Jeremy Lane, Chris Maragos, Ron Parker, Deshawn Shead, Jeron Johnson, Roy Lewis and Marcus Trufant legitimately vying for roster spots and playing time this year (throw in Donny Lisowski, Phillip Adams and Coye Francies as longshots), the Seahawks are going to have some hard decisions to make on who to keep and who will miss the cut. It's a good problem to have, and remember, this is all after the Seahawks let a solid contributor in Atari Bigby walk during the offseason, as he was searching for more playing time.
Incidentally, and part of the reason I wanted to write this article, - it looks like Atari Bigby might get a chance to see significant playing time with a team that has a pretty damn good defense in the Chargers. With incumbent Steve Gregory gone in free agency and the Bob Sanders experiment long over, the starting job appears to be Bigby's to lose at the moment. Said Chargers head coach Norv Turner, recently: "I really like his work ethic and professionalism. He's clearly played a lot of football, and he has a good understanding of what we're trying to do. He's a complete player. Playing the run is his strength, but he's a good pass defender and a solid special teams player. When he was in Green Bay, I thought he was a really good starting strong safety."
I actually believe Bigby was fairly underrated even here in Seattle last year in his limited role. I remember thinking to myself several times during the season that he had a knack to make plays when he was given the chance. Chargers FS Eric Weddle game him his endorsement: "The dude can play. He's been impressive to me by how he carries himself and the way he works. He's a lot like me, only a little bigger. He's very knowledgeable and understands the role of each player in the secondary. That's why I think we're going to have a solid working relationship."
Regardless - someone will have to step into Bigby's role this year, but it looks like the Hawks are well positioned to do so, and more.