Seahawks' veteran 'replacements' may be key to another playoff run

SEATTLE - The Seattle Seahawks have suffered injuries to key players before. Their mantra when such a setback occurs: “Next man up.”

Those reinforcements are usually up-and-coming players whom general manager John Schneider found late in drafts or as undrafted free agents. That’s how Richard Sherman got his shot. Kam Chancellor, too.

But this year Schneider and the Seahawks have found more seasoned stand-ins. Trades and free agency have brought Seattle a wealth of veteran depth that has been critical to keeping the Seahawks in the playoff hunt.

“I think it’s absolutely showing itself,” coach Pete Carroll said this week. “The guys that have stepped up have done a really nice job.”

The Seahawks are getting career years from quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner, but it may be the play of Bradley McDougald, Sheldon Richardson, Duane Brown and other “replacements” that carries them to the playoffs.

Seattle signed McDougald in March after he started 36 games for Tampa Bay.

As good as Chancellor and fellow safety Earl Thomas have been, both have missed time the past few seasons due to injuries. That was surely a factor in the decision.

“McDougald came in here and the thought was that he was good enough to have three safeties on the field at the same time,” said Q13 Sports Director Aaron Levine. “But the prevailing thought was also that you have two aging safeties, and as good as they are the last couple of years, both of them haven’t always been on the field.”

With Thomas missing two games because of a concussion and Chancellor missing most of the season because of a neck injury, the move has paid off.

Seattle traded for Richardson the week before the regular season began, sending fan-favorite Jermaine Kearse to the Jets in exchange for the Pro Bowl defensive tackle.

“Sheldon is really a factor,” Carroll said. “He’s a factor and a force at the line of scrimmage.”

At the time, the Seahawks were filling the void left by rookie Malik McDowell missing the season after an ATV accident. Since then, Cliff Avril has been ruled out for the season and Dion Jordan and Naz Jones have both missed time as well.

“One thing that’s obvious is Pete Carroll’s infatuation for defensive lineman,” former Seahawks defensive back Jordan Babineaux said. “Having acquired Richardson via trade showed there was more value in having a game-changing player. ... He’s shown a difference for this defense.”

Babineaux also pointed to the way the Seahawks shored up their secondary. In addition to McDougald, Seattle traded for defensive back Justin Coleman the same week they acquired Richardson. Then when Sherman went down for the season with a ruptured achilles, Seattle signed original Legion of Boom member Byron Maxwell.

“Having veterans added to this year’s roster provided immediate impact,” Babineaux said. “McDougald and Maxwell both have had success in their careers, and each have been factors in replacing two All-Pro players in Sherman and Chancellor.”

Maxwell was thrown into the fire in his first game back, playing almost all the defensive snaps after rookie Shaq Griffin went down with a concussion. Since Griffin’s return, Maxwell has remained in the starting lineup, somewhere he was before opposite Sherman.

“What’s great about it is he’s been around,” Carroll said. “He’s been through it. You lose a guy the stature of Sherm. How do you replace that? Well, this guy was his sidekick for a few years.”

Carroll also praised Coleman, whom the Seahawks picked up from the Patriots for a seventh round draft pick.

“He’s done a great job,” Carroll said. “He’s been active, very tight, very aggressive in his coverage. He’s been a great addition.”

Carroll gave credit to Schneider, too, for making the acquisition.

“That’s really John and his guys figuring that out,” he said. “They pulled him off film and got him to us and it’s worked out really well.”

The most important addition for the Seahawks, though, was likely the one they made mid-season, trading for Houston Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown.

“Acquiring Brown has been the biggest impact,” Babineaux said. “What’s most important is protecting the QB. Brown’s presence puts the team on track to accomplish that faster.”

Levine agreed.

“Without that trade, Russell Wilson would be getting killed behind that offensive line,” Levine said. “Sometimes he’s still running for his life back there, but it’s not as bad and it’s not as consistent as it’s been in the past.”

It may be unconventional for the Seahawks, but adding all these talented veterans may also underline a growing sense of urgency.

“The message that John Schneider has made this season is that the time to win is now,” Levine said. “It has to be now, because you have an aging core of veterans … but they’re not getting any younger and the window is probably closing when it comes to using that core.”

Babineaux said he’s not ready to close any windows yet, at least as long as Wilson is still taking the snaps.

“The Seahawks have been an opportunistic organization in their approach to build their roster,” he said. “As long as No. 3 is at QB, they have a chance.”

Carroll said he’s just happy the team is in a familiar spot, regardless of how they’ve gotten there.

“Well it’s the fourth quarter (of the season), and we have the opportunity to control everything,” he said. “That’s all we could hope for.”