It figures, I end up having to take a week off to recuperate1, and it just so happens that’s the week the Seahawks end up having to make significant changes to both the roster and the starting lineup on both sides of the ball. Cornerback Brandon Browner is now suspended for the last four games of the regular seasons after testing positive for Adderall, and offensive guard James Carpenter has been placed on injured reserve after experiencing sharp pain in his surgically reconstructed knee early on in the Bears game.
Both losses hurt, but not as much as they would have just a few seasons ago when Seattle’s roster had been depleted by years of Tim Ruskell’s poor draft choices and shortsighted free agency signings. The man replacing Browner in the starting lineup is Walter Thurmond, who you might remember was third on the depth chart last season behind Browner and Marcus Trufant. Thurmond has an ugly injury history dating back to his college career – his season-ending leg injury last year helped pave the way for Richard Sherman to step in and take over the starting job – and at 5’11” and 186 lbs he’s nowhere near as physically imposing as Browner, but there’s no denying that he’s got the talent to be a starting NFL corner.
With Trufant ruled out for this week’s game with a hamstring injury, the nickel back job will likely fall to sixth-round rookie CB Jeremy Lane. During the offseason and on into the preseason, Lane garnered more notice for his immaturity and ability to commit penalties at the drop of a hat, but since then it would seem that he’s improved enough to leapfrog Byron Maxwell on the depth chart. Larry Fitzgerald is still probably going to do his Larry Fitzgerald thing, but Arizona’s anemic stable of quarterbacks makes this Sunday a perfect opportunity for Thurmond and Lane to adjust to their new roles. The fifth and sixth corners on the depth chart this weekend will be DeShawn Shead, who was activated off the practice squad this week, and Ron Parker, who was signed off of Carolina’s practice squad (Parker also played two games for the Seahawks last year).
Getting back to Browner and Sherman’s failed drug tests, there have been so few specifics released on the matter by anyone that it’s difficult to know what to think. Do some players try to get away with taking performance-enhancing drugs? Definitely, and it’s a problem in nearly every other professional sport as well2. That said, the workout and health supplement market is about as well-regulated and policed as a Somali bazaar. Even when labels don’t intentionally lie about ingredients, poor manufacturing practices leads to many supplements being cross-contaminated by other substances that have been processed using the same machinery or improperly stored close by in the same warehouse.
I believe Browner’s allegation in his appeal was that the lab doing the testing improperly handled samples, and labs can and do get shut down for doing exactly that. That said, if being married to a lawyer has taught me anything, it’s that it’s one thing to know something happened, but quite another to prove it happened beyond a reasonable doubt.
Because of that uncertainty, Browner’s decision to drop his appeal may have been his way of taking one for the team. Sherman is still pursuing his appeal and as such will be able to play this week and probably next week as well, which mitigates the loss of Browner somewhat, but if he ends up getting suspended after that then he’ll be unavailable to play until the NFC Championship game, should the Seahawks advance that far. Therefore, had they both kept up their appeals and lost the Seahawks would have been without both of their starting CBs up through the first two rounds of the playoffs. This way the team knows it’ll have at least one of its starting corners when it reaches the postseason, and they’ll only have to possibly do without both starting CBs for the games against the 49ers and Rams – not ideal, perhaps, but better than the alternative.
Anyway, moving on. The loss of Carpenter means the offensive line will have to get by without one of its best run blockers, but either John Moffitt or J.R. Sweezy (or a combination of the two) should be able to fill in well enough to get by. Moffitt is more mobile than Carpenter, albeit not as strong, and Sweezy is an even more promising athletic talent whose inexperience at the position caused him to struggle early in the season. Besides, only a few months ago we were discussing the possibility that Carpenter wouldn’t recover in time to play at all this season, so getting to use him at all was a bonus. Even if the pain in his knee proves to be minor, shutting him down for the year was the right call – far better to play it safe now so he can heal up and anchor the left guard position for the next ten years than risk destroying his knee and prematurely ending his career. Rookie guard Rishaw Johnson has been activated from the practice squad to take Carpenter’s spot on the roster.
One of the more interesting bits of news in all this is that Paul McQuistan will be staying at right guard. McQuistan reminds me a lot of Chris Gray – he isn’t particularly big, strong, or fast, but he plays well enough on most snaps to get the job done. From what I understand, he’s a big favorite of o-line coach Tom Cable, and the offensive coaching staff as a whole seems to love how well he and right tackle Breno Giacomini are starting to mesh together as a unit on the right side of the line. Will the Seahawks find someone better in the near future to replace McQuistan? I’m sure they’ll try, but Holmgren and his staff tried over and over again to replace Gray with someone bigger and better, and each time Gray managed to come out on top of the battle in training camp and keep his starting job.
Also, veteran wide receiver Braylon Edwards was cut this week, but I’d be hard pressed to call that an important move. Edwards has occasionally flashed the big-play ability that made him a first round pick of the Browns back in 2005, but he seems to have lost a step and has had trouble getting separation from defenders all season long. His overturned TD catch against Chicago notwithstanding, Edwards hasn’t caught a pass since week six, and according to my stats he's been targeted 16 times but has only made 8 receptions. Bottom line, his contributions on offense can be easily replaced by the two young, healthy receivers at the bottom of the depth chart, Charly Martin and Jermaine Kearse, and they can both run and move well enough to make an impact on special teams, too.
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1 I know I’ve mentioned this before, but chronic pain is a serious, uh, pain (you know what I mean). I’m pretty functional most days, but on those occasions when it gets bad it usually stays bad for awhile, and my ability to write much of anything in a coherent, intelligible manner is one of the first things to go. In other words, you might not like it when things go silent around here, but you can rest assured that I’m liking it even less.
2 On that note, one of the best headlines I’ve ever read was for an article about Floyd Landis being stripped of his Tour de France victory after he failed a doping test: “Nobody Has Won the Tour de France in the Last Twenty Years.