Springs expecting a big year in Seattle's new-look defense
By Mike Wilkening (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
June 17, 2003
When the Seahawks hired Ray Rhodes as their new defensive coordinator in February, CB Shawn Springs got the lowdown on him from Deion Sanders, who knows just a little something about defense.
“Deion was like, ‘That’s the best. He’s awesome. He’s unreal,’ ” Springs recalled Monday. “ ‘You’re going to love him — and you’re going to shine.’ ”
Springs thinks Rhodes’ defense will put the spark back into his game. A seven-year veteran who’s a free agent at season’s end, the jump start would do wonders for both player and team. Springs, who has the skills to be one of the league’s few lockdown cornerbacks, has intercepted only six passes in the last three seasons and has struggled with hamstring injuries at times. Over that period, the Seahawks have failed to make the playoffs.
Expectations are higher in Seattle in 2003. The Seahawks’ impressive finish in 2002, one led by the stellar play of QB Matt Hasselbeck and a weapons-laden offense, is proof they could very well win the NFC West.
Shining in December is one thing. Standing out in January is another. That usually takes good defense, something the Seahawks didn’t play enough of in 2002. The Seahawks had the league’s fifth-worst defense last season. They were just awful against the run, surrendering 152.6 yards a game — dead last in the NFL.
Hence the need for Rhodes, one of the league’s best defensive coordinators. Rhodes is stressing an attitude change for the Seahawks’ defense, one that has ample talent but must amp up its production.
A good way to increase that productivity would be to keep Springs on the field. Rhodes and Springs have already talked about this, Rhodes said. In a rare session with the Seattle media last week, Rhodes said Springs aggravated a hamstring injury in a minicamp, which led Rhodes to suggest that Springs needed to stop training on his own and spend time working with the team. The result was an injury-free month of practice, Rhodes said.
Springs said the focus of the talk was the need for Springs to stick around and learn a new role on defense — that of the corner covering the slot receiver in the nickel: “He said mainly just stay up here and learn the stuff. … He said, ‘Trust me, It’s going to pay off.’ He tells me all the time, ‘It’s going to pay off; it’s going to work out.’
“And it has.”
Rhodes has the luxury of sliding Springs inside on passing downs because of talented young CBs Marcus Trufant and Ken Lucas. Both have the talent to be top cover corners themselves. Trufant, the team’s first-round pick from Washington State, drew praise from Rhodes last week.
Trufant is pushing hard for a starting spot, but it looks to be a healthy competition. Springs looks forward to mentoring the rookie. Trufant, for his part, says he wants to “mimic” what Springs does on the field.
“I look at it as I’ve got a guy to look up to,” Trufant said.
The Seahawks have the making of quite the secondary. There are the top three cornerbacks, who could all become stars, and then there are capable safeties Reggie Tongue and Damien Robinson. The safeties are being pushed by rookie Ken Hamlin, who could be hard to keep off the field, Rhodes said.
But the defensive backs won’t look good unless the run defense stiffens, Springs said. DT Norman Hand, formerly of the Saints, should help. The biggest change, of course, will be Rhodes’ new scheme, which Springs believes will make the Seahawks much more stout vs. the run.
“He just made it simpler, for one,” Springs said of Rhodes' defense. “He makes it so everybody is responsible for a gap, and you know where you have to be, and he holds you accountable for it. … Everybody has so much respect for him that you don’t want to be the weak link. You don’t want to be the one on the film he calls out.”
Springs enjoys a good relationship with Rhodes, he said. And it’s clear he’s relishing the chance to play in his defense.
“That’s what I realized in the league: It’s all about the system you’re in,” Springs said. “… If you’re an offensive player, everybody knows you want to play for Shanahan or Mariucci. If you’re a cornerback, you want to play for Belichick or those boys from Miami, because all they run is stuff to get you picks.”
“And that’s the same way with Ray. You know in his defense, even if you’re decent, he’s going to put you in position. You just have to make the play.”
If Springs returns to form, interceptions are likely to follow. From 1998 to ’99, he picked off 12 passes and earned the reputation as one of the league’s best. Should he have a big season, the Seahawks will have to decide whether to pay him the big money he is almost certain to command in free agency. With Lucas and Trufant in tow, the Seahawks might be hesitant to bring him back.
Springs said he’ll wait until the end of this season to discuss his future with team officials. He’s well aware of what a big performance in a contract year means to one’s checkbook.
That said, he's excited about being a part of a defense that he believes can finish in the league’s top five.
“All I do is go out there and be myself. I’ve been doing it for seven years, so I know what’s going to happen,” he said. “Now that I’ve got Ray, and we’re talking, and the position that I’m in right now on the field, I know I’m going to have a great year. I’m going to have an awesome year because of our scheme.”