Seahawks.com passes out its midseason honors:
Best player: Chris Clemons. The team’s “Leo” end has five of the Seahawks’ 13 sacks and also leads in a very important unofficial category that speaks to his disruptiveness: Plays forced that lead to tackles by his teammates. As underrated as Clemons is as a pass-rusher – which is very – he’s even more underrated against the run. He weighs only 254 pounds, but uses his quickness and relentless to get the better of blockers who have him 70-80 pounds. As nose tackle Brandon Mebane puts it, “What else can you say about Clem? He’s the man.”
Best offensive player: Russell Okung. After a slow start, the second-year left tackle is settling in as the most consistent player on an inconsistent unit – and that means the entire offense, as well as the line. The running game had a breakthrough performance against the Cowboys, with Marshawn Lynch gaining 135 of the team’s season-best 162 rushing yards. Now, Okung and the rest of his mates on the line need to show it was a giant step in previewing what’s to come, and not just a one-game gain.
Best defensive player: Clemons, obviously. But honorable mention to free safety Earl Thomas, who was the pick for best player after four games and ranks second on the team in tackles; strong safety Kam Chancellor, who leads the team with three interceptions and ranks fourth in tackles; and middle linebacker David Hawthorne, who is leading the team in tackles for the third consecutive season.
Best special teams player: Jon Ryan. The inconsistencies of these units have mirrored those of the entire team, but Ryan has been solid – and at times near spectacular. In Sunday’s loss to Dallas, he averaged 61 yards on three punts with a net of 58.3 to kick the Seahawks out of trouble and the Cowboys into holes. For the season, Ryan is averaging 49.0, which ranks sixth in the league; and 39.0, which ranks 17th, but would be much higher without the 55- and 56-yard returns for touchdowns the coverage units have allowed.
Best offensive rookie: Doug Baldwin. We’ve pointed this out before, but it’s worth repeating: On a team that includes wide receiver Sidney Rice and tight end Zach Miller, free-agent addition who were Pro Bowl pass-catchers with their previous teams, and Mike Williams, the Seahawks leading receiver last season; the rookie free agent from Stanford has a team-high 28 receptions, shares the lead in TD catches (two) and is second by 36 inches to Rice in receiving yards (434). As surprising as this might sound, it isn’t. Baldwin has been making plays since he stepped on the practice field for the first time in training camp. As backup QB Charlie Whitehurst put it, “I’m really not surprised, honestly. The first few days of training camp we all kind of had a smirk on our face like, ‘How in the world did we get this guy?’ ”
Best defensive rookie: K.J. Wright. The fourth-round draft choice from Mississippi State started the opener at middle linebacker because Hawthorne was out. Wright has started the past five games on the strong side because he’s been too good to keep off the field. His rapid development allowed the club to trade Aaron Curry to the Oakland Raiders. The most impressive aspect of all the things Wright has done right is how quickly he picks things up. As linebackers coach Ken Norton said during the preseason, “He’s the type of player that listens and then knows how to transfer it to the field very quickly. When you think of the great players, he has those intangibles. Now let’s just see if it shows up on game day.” So far, Wright has continued to show he has, well, the right stuff.
Best free-agent addition: Alan Branch. The big signings after the lockout-eliminated offseason were Rice, Miller, left guard Robert Gallery and QB Tarvaris Jackson. But the best of this class has been Branch, the former Arizona Cardinals who has settled in and excelled at the three-technique tackle spot in the Seahawks’ 13th-ranked run defense. How good has Branch been? Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the best D-tackle in the league.
Best free-agent find: Brandon Browner. Coach Pete Carroll has been looking for a bigger cornerback since he walked through the door at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Jan. 11, 2010. He found him, of all places, in the Canadian Football League. That’s where Browner played the past four seasons. Browner still needs to improve in playing “off” coverage, but when it comes to press coverage he puts every inch and each pounds of his 6-foot-4, 221-pound body into frustrating opposing receivers. He is second on the team in passes defensed (five) and fourth in tackles (48) – and then there was that club-record 94-yard interception return for a TD to ice the Week 5 upset of the Giants.
Best third option: Richard Sherman. When veteran Marcus Trufant went out with a disc issue in his back, Walter Thurmond stepped in at left cornerback. But that lasted all of two starts before Thurmond was lost to a fractured ankle that required surgery. Next up was Sherman, a fifth-round draft choice out of Stanford who isn’t playing like one. The Seahawks have forced three turnovers in the past two games, and Sherman has been involved in each – an interception and then a breakup that led to Chancellor’s third interception of the season against the Bengals; and a fumble-forcing hit on Dez Bryant near the goal line in Sunday’s game against the Cowboys.
Comeback player of the year: Red Bryant. His teammates made this choice when they voted the team’s five-technique defensive end the Ed Block Courage Award last week. Bryant went out in the Week 8 loss to the Raiders last season with a knee injury that required surgery, and the Seahawks’ run defense when down with him – slipping from No. 2 in the league after six games to No. 21. Bryant is back, and as active and stout as ever. Many of his best plays have been those where the 330-pound Bryant chases the ball carrier into a teammate. As D-line coach Todd Wash says, “With Red, what’s amazing about him is just the passion he plays with.” Bryant also set a club record by blocking two field-goal attempts against the Browns in Week 7.
Best quote: “I always liken it to the ‘Three Little Pigs.’ You can build it with straw or stick. Or you can work your tail off and know that you’re doing the right thing and kind of do it the old fashioned way and have a big, strong, sturdy foundation. Then, you can weather all the storms.” – general manager John Schneider, on the team’s on-going building process