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2011 honor roll

Seahawks.com passes out its honors for the just-completed season:

MVP: Marshawn Lynch. Beast Mode. Skittles-back. Free spirit. Call him what you will, but the hard-running Lynch proved his value week after week, game after game, down after down – especially in the second half of the season after the coaches decided that running the ball was the offensive indentity. Lynch finished with career-highs in rushing yards (1,204) and touchdowns (13), and 941 of those yards and 10 of those scores came in the final nine games – when his totals were league-highs over that span. And with Lynch, it wasn’t so much what he did, but how he did it. The entire team followed his refuse-to-go-down lead.

Best offensive player: Doug Baldwin. All the rookie free agent did was lead the team in receptions (51), receiving yards (788) and touchdown catches (four). Not bad for a guy who was passed over by all 32 teams in the NFL Draft. In fact, coach Pete Carroll tabbed Baldwin as the player who most surprised him this season, offering, “I think that’s the biggest surprise – that he could take it that far.”

Best defensive player: Earl Thomas. This is a tough choice, despite Thomas’ selection as the starting free safety on the NFC Pro Bowl squad, because of the efforts of strong safety Kam Chancellor, who finished second on the team in tackles (94) and tied for second in interceptions (four); end Chris Clemons, who tied his career-high with 11 sacks; and end Red Bryant, who returned one of his two interceptions for a touchdown. But each of those players point to Thomas’ contributions in allowing the defense to rank No. 9 in the league, and the other players and coaches in the conference were impressed enough that they made Thomas the Seahawks’ first Pro Bowl selection since 2008.

Best special teams player: Jon Ryan. The Seahawks’ Canadian-born punter broke his own team records for average (46.6) and net average (39.3) and tied the mark for punts inside the 20 with a league-high 34. Oh, and his 77-yarder in the season-opener against the 49ers? Another club record, this time bettering a 16-year-old record that was held by Rick Tuten (73 yards).

Best offseason addition: Tom Cable. This just in: The former Raiders head coach can coach. Cable was hired on Jan. 18 with the title of assistant head coach/offensive line coach. But the running game was his baby, and boy did it deliver down the stretch when the Seahawks rushed for 100-plus yards in eight of their last nine games – a run that was capped by the season-high 178-yard performance in the finale against the Cardinals. And a lot of this was done with Breno Giacomini, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Paul McQuistan stepping in for the injured starting trio of right tackle James Carpenter, right guard John Moffitt and left tackle Russell Okung. It was Cable’s belief in his system that made believers of the players, and eventually even the skeptics.

Best free-agent addition: Brandon Browner. The 6-foot-4 cornerback wasn’t even your typical free agent. He was signed to a future contract in January after playing the past four seasons in the CFL. He stepped in on the right side during training camp because Walter Thurmond was out with a sprained ankle and stayed there. Browner led the team with six interceptions; and the conference in secondary intimidation. His 94-yard interception return for a TD in Week 5 not only iced the upset of the Giants, it broke a team record that had lasted since 1979 (91 yards by Sammy Green). Browner added a 42-yarder for a score against the Bears and a 68-yarder against the Eagles in racking up 220 return yards to demolish the team record (179 by Dave Brown in 1984).

Best rookies: It’s a Stanford thing, as it’s impossible to separate Baldwin and cornerback Richard Sherman. After Marcus Trufant and Thurmond were lost to season-ended injuries, Sherman was the third option on the left side. In 10 starts, the fifth-round draft choice produced four interceptions, 17 passes defensed and 53 tackles. In addition to his team-leading totals as a receiver, Baldwin had a five-minute span against the Rams where he popped a 37-yard kickoff return, downed a punt at the 6-yard line and then blocked a punt that Michael Robinson returned for the touchdown.

Best in-season addition:  Heath Farwell. He not only led the Seahawks, but the league with 21 coverage tackles on special teams. And he wasn’t signed until Oct. 19. He had multiple tackles in eight of the 11 games he played and also blocked a punt against the 49ers.

Comeback player of the year: Bryant. After playing in only seven games in 2010, Bryant returned to start all 16 this season. In addition to intercepting two passes, he also anchored the stout run defense and blocked a club record four kicks (three field goals and a PAT). His teammates rewarded Bryant by voting him the Ed Block Courage Award and the Steve Largent Award.

What would they do without : McQuistan. Like Browner, the versatile offensive lineman was signed to a future contract in January. Like Browner, McQuistan never was expected to start. But start he did, in 10 games – three at left guard for an injured Robert Gallery; three at right guard for Moffitt; four at left tackle for Okung. If Chuck Knox was still around, he’d present McQuistan with a symbolic lunch pail and a hardhat.

Best third-day draft choice: K.J. Wright. A bit of a contrived category, but the rookie linebacker deserves some mention. He started the season opener at middle linebacker because David Hawthorne was out with an injury. Wright started the final 12 games on the strong side because, well, he was too good to keep off the field – and good enough that former first-round draft choice Aaron Curry was traded to the Raiders for a couple of draft choices that could turn into another Wright. He finished fifth on the team in tackles (61), including two sacks. He’s just one of the many young players on this team that needs a pair of shades, because his future is so bright.

Best win: Week 5 over the Giants. The Week 10 upset of the Ravens also deserves mention, but the upset of the Giants came on the road, in a 10 a.m. Seattle-time start, when the Giants were 3-1. The game featured the Seahawks scoring a touchdown on their first possession, which they did only twice all season; Charlie Whitehurst stepping in for injured QB Tarvaris Jackson to throw a go-ahead TD pass to Baldwin in the fourth quarter; and Browner’s record-breaking interception return to snuff the Giants’ late bid to steal the game.

Worst loss: Week 12 to the Redskins. Again, the 6-3 loss to the Browns in Cleveland in Week 7 deserves consideration, but the Seahawks played without Lynch and Jackson that day. The loss to the Redskins came at home to a team that had lost six in a row. It also came because the Seahawks allowed a team that had been averaging 16 points a game to score 16 in the fourth quarter.

Best quote: It was the choice at midseason, and no one said anything better or more telling than this evaluation from general manager John Schneider after the team’s 2-6 start: “I always likened it to the ‘Three Little Pigs.’ You can build it with straw or sticks. 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.”