No fear

  • SCOTT M. JOHNSON / Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, October 18, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Opposing quarterbacks used to shy away from throwing passes to receivers covered by Seahawks cornerback Springs, but not anymore


Herald Writer

KIRKLAND — The imaginary line has been erased. That boundary that separated Shawn Springs’ area from the rest of the field seems to have been lifted this season.

It was a line that quarterbacks did not dare cross, especially after seeing Springs put together a personal highlight film on national television in one Monday night game at Green Bay.

That was last season, when everything went Springs’ way until he was snubbed from the Pro Bowl at year’s end. No receiver, it seemed, could separate himself from Springs, and the cornerback proved in his third season that he was among the league’s elite players.

This year, that respect seems to have subdued. The way teams are challenging Springs, you’d think he was just another cornerback.

"Maybe they think I suck or something, I don’t know," Springs joked earlier this week.

No one would take it that far. Opposing players still consider Springs to be one of the game’s best corners. But the amount of passes thrown his direction prove that teams don’t fear Springs like they did last season.

Last week was a prime example. The Indianapolis Colts scored on their first drive of the game, as Peyton Manning twice tested Springs with throws to Marvin Harrison for first downs. The first completion went for five yards on second-and-2. Manning then hit Harrison over the middle on a post pattern with Springs nearby in zone coverage.

Springs also broke up two passes and had an especially productive second half, but the damage had been done.

"Just because Shawn is covering a guy doesn’t mean that you can’t throw to that guy," Manning said in the week leading up to the game. "It just means that you have to be accurate and the timing must be right. He has great makeup speed and he can close on the ball. Sometimes you will think that a guy is open and Shawn kind of baits you into throwing an interception.

"We have a lot of respect for Shawn."

Quarterbacks respect him, but the fear is gone. In previous losses to Carolina and Kansas City, passes went to receivers in his area eight times — six of which were completed.

"It goes in spurts," Springs said. "This year, we’re playing a lot more zone. Even though I might be able to make a tackle on a guy, it’s not necessarily my guy. We just might be in a zone. Unless you know that, it’s kind of hard to tell."

The plethora of zone calls in new defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell’s system have played a part in the coverages this season. Springs is better in man-to-man coverage, and was relied upon at times last season to shut down an opposing teams’ best receiver.

But his 2000 performance might go deeper than zone play. Springs missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury, which seemed to bother him early in the regular season. Coach Mike Holmgren was quick to shoot down talk that Springs was playing hurt earlier this year, but there is no doubt that he is a different player than the cornerback he was last season.

"Remember, he missed all of training camp," Holmgren said. "Even the great ones need training camp."

Springs also refused to use the hamstring as an excuse, but he has noticed a change this season.

"It’s different," Springs said. "I can’t really explain it. It’s different coverage-wise, it’s just different.

" … Most people would think that I’d be better chasing around one dude most of the time. But it all depends on what’s going on up front. That’s what dictates it. But I can play both (zone and man-to-man). I guess that’s why they drafted me."

Perhaps no statistic in football is more overrated than interceptions, so the fact that Springs has only one pick this season is no reason to panic. The better indicator comes in how often he is tested. While fellow cornerback Willie Williams has improved on his 1999 performance, Springs is seeing almost as many passes on his side of the field. The Colts, Panthers, Chiefs and St. Louis Rams threw Springs’ direction often, and Seattle went on to lose all four games.

"That’s how it was my second year," Springs said. "The first four games, I had a lot of passes thrown at me, then they went away from me for about four. You need to get a pick or two and they’ll shy away."

Springs’ season was best exemplified on a key 73-yard reception by Kansas City’s Derrick Alexander near the end of the Chiefs game two-and-a-half weeks ago. Springs was in perfect coverage on the play, but looked back at the wrong time and allowed Alexander to catch the ball over the top of the defender. Springs didn’t exactly get burned, yet it was still the kind of play that he made last season.

"I can’t begin to say what they’re thinking along those lines," Holmgren said of opposing offenses testing Springs. "If it was me, and I had a choice, I probably wouldn’t throw the ball over to him too much — regardless of what has happened in previous games.

"He will gamble on occasion. He’s a great football player, and the great ones gamble. On occasion, sometimes he gets beat. Every corner in football is going to get beat. You don’t want it to happen too much, but it happens."

While the Seahawks have a lot of holes on the NFL’s 29th-ranked defense, Holmgren was quick to point out: "I don’t have any concern about Shawn Springs."

Springs’ reputation — he was the third overall pick in the 1997 draft and made a trip to the Pro Bowl the following year — means he plays under a bigger spotlight and with less room for error. He is on pace to surpass his personal-high 75 tackles in a season and is still the team’s most reliable coverage player. He remains the best athlete on the Seahawks’ defense, while Holmgren has reiterated on numerous occasions his desire to lock up Springs beyond the 2003 season — when his current contract is scheduled to expire.

Springs probably will be relied upon to contain Oakland’s Tim Brown this weekend, especially critical given Brown’s three touchdowns against Seattle in 1999. No one doubts Springs can do it, for he’s having a productive season.

It just hasn’t been a Shawn Springs-type season.

"I could be playing better," Springs said. "I dropped a couple of interceptions that I could have possibly made. But I feel this is still going to be a pretty good year for me. I still think I’m going to have a real good year."

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