Barrington played only one snap on defense before a season-ending knee injury, while Palmer (116 snaps) played about a third of the snaps undrafted free agent outside linebacker Andy Mulumba (355) played.
Back in Seattle, not only have the Seahawks’ later picks been greater contributors, but Thomas, the second of two first-round picks in 2010, has been a home run. He and Sherman each received votes for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, which went to Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly on Saturday night. Just as Schneider gambled on Irvin (character concerns) with his 2012 first-round pick, he took a chance on Thomas, who was young (20) and undersized (5-foot-10) for the position.
“I was too young. When you add into it the size factor – I'm 5-10 – all those factors kind of go up against me,” Thomas said at midweek. “When I had my visits, they said I was too quiet. But they didn't understand when I'm on the football field, I'm a totally different person than just off the field. I turn into the most talkative person ever on the football field, just because I communicate well."
In Chancellor and Thomas, the Seahawks have arguably the best safety tandem in football, which underscores another of the Packers’ issues. Not only did Burnett not play to the level of his contract, but M.D. Jennings started all 17 games despite grading out poorly and McMillian was a draft mistake.
“What do we hear every year about the draft? ‘Oh, you can get safeties anywhere,’ ” NFL Films’ Greg Cosell said of the Seahawks’ defense during a recent visit on The Herd on ESPN Radio. “Well, isn’t it interesting that the best defense in the league has the best safety duo in the league? That, to me, is the most overlooked [aspect of Seattle’s defense]. Earl Thomas is not overlooked. He’s the best free safety in the league, but I think Kam Chancellor is absolutely critical to the success of that defense.
“Thomas as a deep middle defender has the most range of any safety in the league and he also plays downhill in the run game with a lot more tenacity and toughness than a lot of people might think. And Chancellor is so much better than people might think, given his size, at playing man-to-man coverage. When they do go man-to-man, they will line him up on the tight end. They played man-to-man [seven or eight] snaps against San Francisco, and every time they did, he covered Vernon Davis. And he locked up Davis. Davis couldn’t get away from him.”
Cosell also suggested that the Seahawks benefit from the relatively simple scheme run by Bradley (now the Jaguars’ head coach) and current defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who was also a hot head-coaching candidate during the offseason. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has perhaps the thickest playbook in the league, and young players can sometimes be confounded by the scheme and play more slowly as a result.
“They’re more of what we would call an execution defense than a schematic defense. There’s not a lot of mystery to what they do,” Cosell said of the Seahawks. “They’re not difficult to figure out tactically. They’re an execution defense. They have really good players who execute the defense play after play after play at a very, very high level.”
Said Quinn: “There’s a real style that we like to play with, and when you talk to our players this week and you ask them that question, the first thing that I’d hope they’d say is we’re fast and physical. We take pride in the way that we want to play, in that style. I think that’s one of the first things that jump out for us: ‘Let’s make sure we have a style and an attitude we like to play our game in.’”
Meanwhile, back on the personnel side, Schneider has also filled holes on defense with veteran free-agents but in the cases of Bennett and Avril, got them at inexpensive prices. Bennett, who was coming off a shoulder injury when he hit the market last year, is expected to command a much larger deal on the open market this spring, while Avril found a softer market than he expected when he hit the market.
“I'm Catholic, so I kind of always have that feeling in my stomach that we're never really doing enough,” Schneider – having attended De Pere Abbot Pennings High School in suburban Green Bay and the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. – said with a chuckle. “I think it's just something where you have to feel like you're covering all your bases or you’re not doing your job.
“We're looking at all avenues and we don't necessarily feel like one is more important than the other. Now, there is obviously no question that you put a lot more time into the draft just because you're starting from scratch with these guys. [But] we [also] look at the waiver wire every day. We have agents calling us about guys that may be feeling better and improving off of specific injuries and you may want to give them a shot. We talk to teams about trades. We always feel like we can walk away from the deal, is really how we look at it.”
Schneider and the Seahawks will face some major salary-cap challenges in the near future, with Wilson, Sherman and Thomas likely to command hefty raises. Wilson’s four-year, $2.198 million deal runs through 2015; Sherman’s four-year, $2,222,424 deal is up after next season; and Thomas’ five-year, $21.1 million deal ends after next season. Chancellor signed a five-year, $29.323 million extension ($17 million guaranteed) last April.
Assuming those three core players are signed to extensions, Schneider and Carroll will have to face the same challenges Thompson and McCarthy do – and may have to fill some holes with young, inexpensive talent. That will mean the Seahawks will have to keep hitting for a high average with their draft picks and inexpensive veteran pick-ups.
“That’s the fortunate thing for me with John. He can handle those kinds of things,” Quinn said of salary-cap issues. “The nice part about working here is that we have a real style about how we want to play and they know the kinds of players to bring in, to feature those players, whether it’s through the draft or through free agency.
“One of the most important things for us is developing our players. The guys who are here, how far can we take them? That’s one of the things that you have a lot of pride as a coach to say, ‘Let’s not worry about where they were drafted or how they got here. How far can we take them?’ I think that’s one of the real things that we stress, in the competition here. It really doesn’t have a big bearing with, ‘You were a first-round pick. You’re going to play right now.’ It’s more the fact that you come here and compete and see what you can do. That’s one thing that we really take a lot of pride in.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.