Entering the 2018 season, the Seahawks were expected to take a significant step backward in the standings, in large part due to the rapid disbanding of the “Legion of Boom” secondary.
Richard Sherman was cut and landed with a division rival in San Francisco. Kam Chancellor suffered a career-ending neck injury. A disgruntled Earl Thomas played sensational football for four games before suffering a broken leg and being placed on injured reserve.
Seattle didn’t expect to replace such impressive talent overnight, and after finishing 17th overall in passing yardage surrendered per game, there’s still a long way to go rebuilding the secondary.
But after a surprising return to the playoffs last season, the Seahawks remain upbeat about future prospects. Specifically, the team's decision to bypass selecting any cornerbacks in last month's draft speaks volumes about the organization's confidence in starters Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers.
Speaking with Dave Mahler and Dick Fain on Sports Radio KJR on Wednesday, Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. spoke at length about the progression of the young tandem, indicating there’s “no ceiling” on their potential as foundational pieces in Seattle’s secondary.
“I don’t think there’s any limitations on how good they can be.” Norton Jr. stated. “It’s a matter of how bad do they want it, how much do they work, getting the film study, really continuing and getting better at your technique, your discipline, your footwork.”
In spurts, Griffin has shown signs of greatness during his first two seasons with the Seahawks, including recording two interceptions in a loss to the Bears in Week 2 last season. But as was the case in his rookie season, the former third-round pick out of UCF struggled to exhibit consistent technique in coverage, has yet to master tracking and playing the football, and was plagued by poor tackling at times.
Still, he put together a strong finish to his first season as a full-time starter, playing a vital role in Seattle winning four out of five games in December to clinch a wild card berth. His finest performance came against Minnesota on Monday Night Football, as he blanketed star receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen in coverage all night long and finished third on the team with seven tackles.
As for Flowers, the fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma State shattered all internal and external expectations, as the converted safety transitioned to cornerback far quicker than Seattle could’ve ever imagined. After originally being viewed as a long-term project, he started 15 games opposite of Griffin, finishing with 67 tackles and six passes defensed.
Still grasping Seattle’s “kick step” technique and adapting to his new position, Flowers didn’t record a single interception as a rookie and certainly will be looking to improve his ball skills heading into 2019. But much to the delight of coach Pete Carroll, he compensated for his lack of picks by using his safety background and sound tackling skills to force three fumbles during the season.
Norton Jr. believes Griffin and Flowers have the physical tools and athleticism necessary to be stars in the league. Both players ran sub-4.45 40-yard dashes at their respective combines and each possesses the length Seattle desires at the position with 32-plus inch arms.
“Their speed, their length, their football IQ – all that is right where it needs to be.” Norton said. “Here in year two, and then for Shaq [Griffin] going into year three, the special guys really start to show themselves in these types of situations.”
With one of the best coaching staffs in football at their disposal, Griffin and Flowers just needs to put everything together from a technical standpoint to fulfill their promise. If the dynamic duo dedicates the time to their craft, Norton doesn’t see any reason why they can’t enter the upper echelon of corners, which would be a great development for Seattle’s hopes of returning to Super Bowl contention.
“If they’re special like we expect them to be, there’s no ceiling. It’s up to them. If they want to be the best, they can be the best.”