Seahawks "LOB" leads second Lombardi chase
PHOENIX -- Winning a Lombardi Trophy is a yearlong journey, beginning with offseason workouts, winding through training camp, the grind of a 17-week regular season and then the intensity of the postseason.
Any NFL player who has held the Lombardi Trophy can identify a turning point - a challenging time during that journey that proved to be the catalyst during the title run.
For the Seattle Seahawks, that came after a frustrating 24-20 Week 11 loss at the Kansas City Chiefs. That dropped the reigning champions to 6-4 and a full three games behind the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West. Forget home-field advantage or even tracking down the Cardinals, the national media talk was focused on whether the reeling champs could even reach the postseason.
There was no doubt something was amiss. The defense was not dominating and the locker room appeared fractured.
That's when the veteran leaders of the Legion of Boom stepped up.
Cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas were at the forefront of bringing the team together, airing out differences and returning to the singular focus of winning football games as brothers.
"The first half of the season we all talked and said people were being more selfish in that first half. We're weren't as much of a unit in the first half as opposed to the end of the season," said Chancellor. "We had our differences. We had our problems. We had our adversity.
"The rest of the season we started trusting one another. The love became stronger and stronger because the love was already there, we just had some confusion. We had the friction, we prayed to God and it all came back together how it was supposed to be."
The Seahawks are not short on leadership, with quarterback Russell Wilson certainly among the team's voices. But it's the "LOB" that is at the core of one of the league's most talented, young rosters.
Original LOB member Brandon Browner is on the opposite side of the field in Super Bowl XLIX, but general manager John Schneider has continued to mine the draft for young talent to bring in to compete for playing time and eventually replace those who inevitably cannot all be fit under the swelling salary cap.
Sherman was a fifth-round pick who vaulted to stardom shortly after being thrust into the starting lineup in 2011 following an injury to veteran Marcus Trufant. When Browner and Walter Thurmond struggled with injuries and off-field issues in 2013, unheralded sixth-round pick Byron Maxwell emerged as a big-play starter opposite Sherman.
With Maxwell a good bet to receive big-money offers as a pending free agent, 2010 fourth-round pick Tharold Simon is the frontrunner to assume that role next season, with 2010 sixth-round pick Jeremy Lane and whoever Schneider brings in through the draft also there to compete.
"I'm going to be ready when (Maxwell) is gone," Simon said. "I might go with the loose jersey that he wears."
Simon said he continues to learn from Maxwell, Sherman, and others, and it's the competitive but supportive environment that continues to elevate the LOB beyond just the star names.
"I don't know if they do it through scouting or research, but we just have guys who come together," Sherman said of Carroll and Schneider. "I think the amount that we care for each other on and off the field exceeds a lot of what the other teams would feel.
"There' isn't the animosity that, 'I'm not going to help him because he's going to take my job.' We want to win at the end of the day. You know everyone has the purest intentions. When we do air things out, it's completely honest. And apparently it makes news headlines. But those meetings are so rare because on a day-to-day basis we're so honest with each other."
The Seahawks finished the regular season ranked first in scoring defense (15.9 points per game), total yards (267.1 per game) and pass defense (185.6 yards per game) and third in rush defense (81.5 ypg.). That's a far cry from the unit that was struggling to find its chemistry at midseason.
Many believe Thomas is quietly the key cog.
A first-team All-Pro in 2014, Thomas' speed allows Sherman to play within the Seahawks' scheme because he knows there is support over the top. But Thomas isn't shy about throwing his 5-foot-10, 202-pound frame into an oncoming ballcarrier.
He was outspoken in that midseason meeting, and admitted he got angry with teammates who were eating sunflower seeds during a team walk-thru.
"It is just us being open with each other -- that's it," said Thomas, who said the sunflower incident was part of his old-school mentality. "When you are open with another man, because everybody feels that they can't show love and be a man at the same time. But, it only takes a couple of people to start it out."
The "LOB" rubs some the wrong way, with Sherman viewed as the centerpiece of a brash, cocky group. But to Sherman, playing with an attitude is the only way to build a successful secondary in a league featuring 6-5, 230-pound playmaking wide receivers on a weekly basis.
"That's kind of how you have to play the position," he said. "That's the only way you can play it and really be uberly successful because you have to forget your bad plays. It's a requirement of this position because you're out there, you're playing against some of the best athletes in the world and sometimes they're better athletes than you - they're faster, they can jump higher, they're quicker.
"I think if you really went inside the heads of 99 percent of the corners in this league, they believe they're the best in this game. It's not arrogance - it's just a necessity."