DeShawn Shead learning all about being versatile in the Seahawks defensive backfield
DeShawn Shead, in his third year out of Portland State, is learning the free safety role with Seattle right now
Seattle Times staff reporter
RENTON — The Seahawks’ roster lists DeShawn Shead as a cornerback, but that is a lie.
“My position is defensive back,” he said.
That is both a matter of fact and pride. In the past two months, Shead has shuffled between cornerback, free safety and strong safety. He is Earl Thomas’ backup at free safety. His best position might be cornerback. He played eight snaps at strong safety during the Super Bowl when Kam Chancellor was injured. He is a man without a home, but his nomad nature might keep him around.
Shead, in his third year out of Portland State, spent most of his first two seasons on the practice squad. But his Swiss army knife status makes him intriguing because it grants the Seahawks flexibility in terms of how they construct their roster and in dealing with injuries.
“It helps me play a part on this team and have a role,” Shead said.
The other part of his game that Shead and Seattle’s coaches stress is his increased presence on special teams. Shead played only eight snaps on defense during the regular season last year, but he played 82 snaps on special teams. And what he showed in that small window convinced the Seahawks he could be a “core” special-teams player this year — consistently a factor.
“He was really one of our best guys last year,” special-teams coach Brian Schneider said.
The Seahawks lost Chris Maragos to the Eagles this season, and they will need to replace him on two fronts: as a backup free safety and as a tone-setter on special teams.
The Seahawks don’t have another free safety on the roster behind Thomas, but Shead has spent the first three days of training camp playing free safety with the second-team defense. The plan is to get him comfortable there before rotating him to corner and strong safety so he doesn’t lose touch with those positions. In the event of an injury, the Seahawks want Shead to be trained at all three spots.
Maragos was one of Seattle’s best special-teams contributors a year ago, and the Seahawks think Shead could contribute in a similar way.
“Our team knows the value of a guy like Shead,” Schneider said.
Shead is still raw and learning the nuances of each position. He is a big, physical corner at 6 feet 2, 220 pounds who can stop receivers in their tracks if he gets his hands on them. But he can focus so much on jamming receivers that he doesn’t move his feet, and he can be susceptible to quick, shifty receivers who are capable of evading him. He also can get better at identifying how receivers want to attack him and using angles to his advantage.
“He’s still developing that conscious,” defensive backs coach Kris Richard said.
At free safety, he’s still training his eyes to see the whole picture instead of just a piece of it. As a cornerback, Shead mostly worries about the man in front of him, but at free safety, he is responsible for recognizing formations, personnel groupings and route concepts of the entire offense. It’s the difference between looking at an iPhone and movie theater screen.
The Seahawks think Shead can handle a varied workload because he is an eager and capable learner.
“He has a great mind for the game,” Thomas said.
Shead signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent three years ago in large part because they were one of the only teams willing to look at him as both a corner and a safety; most teams wanted him as just a safety. But he worried early on about solidifying his position. There is a fine line between being versatile and being without a spot.
“And we recognized that and we knew what we were doing to him,” Richard said. “You’re a man without a home. You’re a jack-of-all-trades. But guess what? We can help you master each and every one of those. What he has now is what a lot of people don’t have: the ability to play multiple positions. To me, that’s a heck of an attribute.”
He added, “I think you’re ready to see a player blossom.”
• The Seahawks signed veteran cornerback Terrell Thomas, a free agent who played most recently for the New York Giants and played in college at USC when Pete Carroll was coach. Thomas became a free agent after playing out a one-year deal he signed in 2013 with the Giants. He returned last season after having missed the previous two years with knee injuries. Seattle would have to waive a player off its 90-man roster to make room for Thomas.
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277; staff reporter Bob Condotta contributed to this article.