Persons of Interest: The moldbreakers
By Danny O’Neil
NEW YORK – Taking a closer look at two key players in Super Bowl XLVIII, Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor and Broncos tight end Julius Thomas:
Kam Chancellor’s vitals
•Position: Strong safety/Designated hitter
•Experience: Fourth year
Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor has earned the nickname Bam Bam on account of his hard-hitting style. (AP)
He went to college as a quarterback if you can believe that, the position he played in high school, only to switch to defense before his second season and wound up playing safety in spite – not because of – his size.
Chancellor is big enough that there’s always background chatter about his possibilities as a linebacker, but it’s mostly his speed on the field and velocity of his hits that makes him a game-changer.
Seattle drafted him in the fifth round out of Virginia Tech, and after being a special-teams mainstay his rookie year, he became the team’s starting strong safety in 2011, making the Pro Bowl after picking off four passes.
Even then, some wondered if he was going to be one of those players who was a key contributor, but ultimately proved too expensive to re-sign given the breadth of Seattle’s young and talented nucleus. Seattle re-signed him to an extension last offseason, showing that the player nicknamed Bam Bam is part of the bedrock of this defense.
The description for Chancellor’s role in Seattle’s defense would call for the strong and silent type. Very strong. It’s only fitting, then, that he once took Seahawks legend Kenny Easley’s daughter to a high-school dance. In terms of playing style, Chancellor is known for the kind of punishing hits Easley was known for.
Question: Has playing physical always come natural to you?
Chancellor: “Always. It has always been a part of my game. I’ve always been a physical player, and I just love that part of the game. I love being a physical presence on that field, and I love having that impact and being an enforcer.”
Question: How much pride do you take in Richard Sherman calling you the enforcer of the Legion of Boom?
Chancellor: “A whole lot, man. I love being called the enforcer, and I love the respect from my teammates and the LOB. Since Day One, I always been a guy who has been physical. Always been a guy who brings the boom to the group. And they always looked at me as that guy. They looked at me as a big brother. Every chance I get I try to go out there and lay the boom for these guys. I play for my brothers, and we emphasize that all the time.”
Julius Thomas’ vitals
•Position: Tight end/Post-up specialist
•Experience: Third season
Broncos tight end Julius Thomas caught just one pass in his first two NFL seasons, but he had 65 receptions for 788 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013. (AP)
Who says Ken Bone can’t put a player in the pros. Yeah, that’s right. Thomas played for Bone at Portland State. He played basketball for four years before giving football one season as a redshirt senior.
Then he followed in the path of such previous transition-game successes as Antonio Gates in San Diego and Jimmy Graham in New Orleans in going from the hardwood to the hard hits of football.
Drafted in the fifth round, Thomas appeared in nine games and caught all of one pass his first two seasons combined. This season, he caught 65 passes for 788 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
Seattle has had success against top receiving tight ends this season, most notably the Saints’ Graham in two meetings. The difference is Denver has three other receivers who have caught 10 or more touchdown passes this season, meaning it will be tough to focus too much on Thomas.
Q: Will Denver be able to have success considering how well Seattle stopped Graham and then San Francisco’s Vernon Davis?
Thomas: “They’ve done a great job against two great tight ends. They were both Pro Bowl tight ends, but we’ll say it the same way we have all season: If a team wants to focus on taking one guy, we have so many weapons that can go out there and make big plays. At times, it may be me that’s not having the most production in a quarter, but if you watch our season, all it takes is one quarter or one drive and you’re like, ‘That guy’s going. He’s here.’ “
Q: What does Seattle do to take away opposing tight ends?
Thomas: “They play fast. I’ve been saying it all week. They’re a bunch of guys that enjoy playing football and they enjoy playing with each other. You put the tape on and you see guys flying around making plays, encouraging each other, and I think they feed off each other. It helps them play with a tremendous amount of energy.”