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Aaron Curry: Why would you do that?


I worked the draft-day broadcast for 710 ESPN Seattle in 2009 with Mike Salk and Clare Farnsworth and when the Seahawks picked Aaron Curry with the fourth overall pick, I was elated. I relayed that story here, and like many, I felt the 2008 Butkus Award winner out of Wake Forest was the safest pick in the 2009 draft.

Two and a half years later, I’m shocked the Seahawks were able to get anything at all in exchange for Curry.

That’s because during the 35 games that I watched him play in Seattle, at least three times per game I turned to the person next to me and asked the question, “Did you see what Aaron Curry did on that play?!”

During Curry’s first season in 2009, he definitely looked like a rookie but there was still some promise there. You expect rookies to make mistakes – there’s a lot to think about.

I remember coaches asking me to do things my rookie year that I had never done before: Accelerating out of a pass drop with just one step; taking on blockers with your hat (helmet) and hands instead of your shoulders; playing lower than you’re used to playing. All are necessary in order to succeed at the next level and it’s a steep learning curve indeed.

There’s a lot to remember in the way of alignments, coverages, and blitzes. Then you throw in the myriad of personnel of packages you see from NFL offenses: motion, shifts and audibles. It becomes obvious to you right away that NFL coaches have way too much time on their hands. So naturally you’re thinking rather than turning it loose and it’s bound to affect your performance.

Then there’s the off the field stuff. You have money for the first time in your life, you have to secure housing, pay bills and manage your finances – all things that were either not a factor or taken care of for you in college.

But 2010 was Curry’s second year and that’s typically when you see players blossom. The game begins to slow down for you. You’re settled into life as a professional athlete and able to concentrate and turn all of that thinking into second-nature instinct. Instead the game was speeding up for Curry and although he was able to overcome his mistakes with superb athletic ability, it wasn’t enough – not for a player selected No. 4 overall.

Curry was considered to be a bust by many at that point and I was beginning to wonder what was going through his head out on the field … if anything at all.

There are three parts to a football play in my mind. First you need to get properly aligned, second you must fulfill your responsibilities within the scheme of the defense, and third you just go make a play. Number three is what defines you as a player and much of it cannot be coached. It’s pure instinct. It’s instantaneous, split-second reaction.

By the end of the 2010 season, it was obvious to me that Curry lacked those instincts. By the beginning of this season, it went from bad to worse and that fact was never more obvious than during last week’s win over the New York Giants. To put it simply, he did things on the field that made this old linebacker say, “Why would you do that?!”

Here’s what I mean:

During an Eli Manning play-action pass in the fourth quarter, Curry had correctly diagnosed the play (perhaps on accident?) and dropped into his pass zone. Manning rolled out to Curry’s left and at one point looked as if he were going to run for it.

Right in front of Curry, clear as day was Red Bryant, not only pursuing Manning, but bearing down on him. Right in front of him! You can’t miss Red Bryant – he’s huge! It was clear that Bryant was in position to eliminate any threat of Manning running the ball, allowing Curry to hang back in his zone and cover up a receiver. Yet there went Curry, racing up out of his zone after Manning like a dog chasing the mailman, as if he couldn’t help himself.

Manning dropped the ball over Curry’s head and although it fell incomplete, it made me say, “Why would you do that?!”

On a pass play in the fourth quarter, he dropped back into his “hook” zone (10-12 yards deep just outside the hash). There was only one receiver aligned to his side and as the play developed, both cornerback Brandon Browner and safety Earl Thomas were in position to cover the lone receiver. Inexplicably, Curry floated to the outside of the field, creating a 3-on-1 scenario. In the meantime, the fullback trickled out into the zone that Curry vacated and caught a pass good for 17 yards.

Say it with me: “Why would you do that?!”

The very next play, he was lined up over Giants tight end Jake Ballard in an obvious man-to-man coverage assignment. A linebacker’s best friend in that situation is to get a “jam” on the receiver. In other words, use your physical tools to knock him off of his route so he can’t beat you down-field.

Instead, Curry sat back in his linebacker stance and just watched Ballard come off the line and run a crossing pattern down-field. He gave chase and tailed him all the way to the point where Manning easily connected with Ballard for a 32-yard gain. He then wrapped his hands around Ballard’s waist from behind like he was joining in on a Conga line dance!

Can I get a “Why would you do that?!”?

What is baffling to me (lots of fans noticed this) is that he looked disinterested during the play. There was no urgency in his manner. It’s almost as if he didn’t understand that it’s an emergency while you’re out there on the field. The game is on the line!

• Jam the receiver off the line as hard as you can.

• Sprint to catch up to him, don’t jog.

• If he makes the catch, hammer him! Maybe you can force a fumble or at least make him pay for catching a pass on you.

It’s not so much that his play was poor, which it was. But it was weird. I know that’s not the most descriptive or technical way of explaining it but here’s what I mean:

In the first game of the year at San Francisco, he was covering tight end Vernon Davis man-to-man. Alex Smith threw a beautiful “back shoulder” throw to Davis for a completion. Plenty of good defenders have been defeated by that throw and if it’s executed properly, it’s nearly impossible to defend.

But it was Curry’s reaction to the play that caught my eye. While the play was still going on (Davis was still in bounds), Curry slapped his hands together as if to say, “Darn it!” He could’ve whipped around and at least pushed Davis out of bounds, yet he behaved as if the play was over! Weird.

Last year in a game against the St. Louis Rams, Curry jumped offsides but was able to get back across the line of scrimmage in time to avoid the penalty. Just as he jumped back across the line safely, the ball was snapped. Yet he took the time to stop, turn his head and look over at the side judge to see if he was going to throw the flag. There’s no time for that, Aaron! Weird.

Brock Huard detailed a play against the Atlanta Falcons in which Curry turned his back to a running play and chased a receiver all the way to the sidelines while running back Michael Turner ran 21 yards for a touchdown. Beyond weird.

The play that most defines Curry was a play that ended up being his last as a Seahawk – a play that finished the New York Giants for good last week. It was a pass that Eli Manning threw right to Aaron Curry. Any Microsoft employee at a company picnic would’ve easily snagged it.

But Curry didn’t. The ball ricocheted off both of his hands and into the arms of Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. Not only that, during the slow-motion instant replay, it looked as if he was more concerned about where he was going to land than catching the ball. As Chancellor raced off to the middle of the field with the ball, Curry sat there on the ground looking down as if the play were over. He never looked up to see what happened.

I would love to know what is holding him back but I can’t figure it out, and apparently neither could the Seahawks coaches.

I do wish him well. It’s not as if he is a bad guy. Perhaps a new environment will give him a fresh start and he’ll be able to recapture his joy of the game. That’s how we all start, just playing for the pure joy of it. Maybe somewhere along the line he lost that. Maybe it was the money. Maybe it was the pressure of being the No. 4 pick in the draft.

But right now, he just can’t play.