By Danny O’Neil
NEW YORK – Taking a closer look at some of the key players in Super Bowl XLVIII, beginning with Seattle’s Walter Thurmond:
• Position: Seahawks nickel cornerback/Potential Peyton prey
• Height: 5-11
• Weight: 195
• Age: 26
• Experience: Fourth year
In his fourth season, Walter Thurmond is finally playing up to the potential the Seahawks saw when they drafted him coming off a serious knee injury. Thurmond was a fourth-round pick out of Oregon in 2010, but he would have been a second- or first-round pick if healthy.
Thurmond was still recovering from a knee injury as a rookie, was hampered by a high ankle sprain in his second season before breaking his leg twice in the span of six months, derailing his second and third season.
This year, he has come into his own, and he was a starting cornerback for Seattle there for a couple of weeks. He might as well be in this game given how frequently the Seahawks will use their nickel defense in the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos.
That nickel cornerback is a perfect fit for Thurmond, an explosive athlete who is capable of breaking in both directions. And even when Thurmond was starting at right cornerback, he would slide into the slot in the nickel package because his explosive change of direction makes him ideally suited for that spot.
But against Denver, Thurmond is going to be in Peyton Manning’s crosshairs as the Broncos quarterback may very well try to isolate Thurmond against a bigger target like one of the Thomases – either receiver Demaryius or tight end Julius – or Wes Welker.
The depth of Seattle’s secondary has been the team’s strength this season. It was the reason that Seattle was able to withstand first an injury to Brandon Browner and then his suspension. It’s how the Seahawks weathered Thurmond’s absence for four games because of a suspension of his own.
It’s also why free safety Earl Thomas isn’t worried at all about whether Manning will test Thurmond.
“There really aren’t weaknesses in our defensive-back room,” Thomas said. “That’s just the great drafting ability we have. We have guys that could be starting anywhere else. Walter understands how important he is to this game, and he’s ready for the challenge. He has been practicing great.”
Q: What’s going to be the key to facing Peyton Manning?
Thurmond: “Just playing disciplined. That’s going to be the biggest thing, you know. He’s a smart quarterback. We just have to play our game.”
Q: How is he different than other quarterbacks? And that might sound silly given how successful he has been, but is it what he does at the line of scrimmage? Is it the way he dissects the defense? What is it?
Thurmond: “I think people get distracted with his mannerisms at the line of scrimmage. All of the bluff and fake checks. He probably will check from a run to a pass, a pass to a run, you know, depending on the situation and what the defense is giving him. But I think a lot of that stuff is for show, though, you know? I think a lot of guys get thrown off their element. It seems like they play – I don’t want to say basic football – but the pass concepts are pretty basic, though. There’s nothing special that they’re doing. They’re just catching defenses, putting defense in bad predicaments and guys aren’t playing sound football.”
Q: Does the pace the Broncos call plays, the way they get to the line, make it tougher on a defense?
Thurmond: “I think so. I think if you’re not prepared for it, yeah. If you’re a prepared defense out there, and you know what you’re doing and you’re able to play fast, I think you can have some success against them. A lot of teams don’t go at a fast pace on offense. I think that naturally throws a defense off, and they constantly run the hurry-up, but if you’re out there just calm and poised, I think that’s the biggest thing to be able to execute and play at a high level against them.”