DENVER – The Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” blew up with Kam Chancellor’s neck injury and Richard Sherman’s exit. The Denver Broncos’ “No Fly Zone” was grounded by Aqib Talib’s trade and T.J. Ward’s departure.
Not so fast, insist the holdovers.
These two teams may not have the star power in their respective secondaries that they’ve boasted in years past, but they still have formidable, youth-infused defensive backfields expected to play leading roles in 2018.
When Talib was traded to the Rams this spring, he suggested the “No Fly Zone” no longer existed.
Nonsense, retorted cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
“I started the ‘No Fly Zone,’ so it’s going to always be here,” said Harris, who has some new co-pilots in cornerbacks Tramaine Brock, Adam Jones and Isaac Yiadom backing up Talib’s replacement, Bradley Roby.
At safety, the Broncos had hoped to add some pop to go with Darian Stewart’s heady play, and they acquired Su’a Cravens from Washington. But he’s on IR with a sore left knee, leaving Will Parks and Dymonte Thomas to step up.
Behind Sherman’s swagger, Seattle’s secondary became a catchphrase across the NFL. The “Legion of Boom” was so well known the names of Sherman, Chancellor and Earl Thomas were always associated with that moniker.
Sherman is now with division rival San Francisco. Chancellor’s career is likely over after a neck injury suffered last season. Thomas is still around, but he only returned to the team on Wednesday after a holdout that produced neither the contract extension nor the trade he hoped for.
Broncos coach Vance Joseph doesn’t see much difference on film, however.
“That defense is more of a culture than it is a certain player,” Joseph said. “They play hard, they play fast and that’s what coach (Pete) Carroll brought there five or six years ago. As I watch the tape this year, it’s different names and numbers, but it’s the same personalities. It’s Seattle. It looks like Seattle.”
If Thomas plays Sunday, it will likely be on a limited “pitch count” as Carroll described it.
Otherwise, Seattle’s secondary features Shaquill Griffin and Dontae Johnson at cornerbacks, Bradley McDougald at strong safety and some combination of Thomas and Tedric Thompson at free safety.
Not quite “Boom” worthy just yet.
Griffin is on his way to being Seattle’s next secondary star. He showed the skill last year as a rookie playing opposite Sherman and may eventually take over as the leader of the unit. Johnson was a starter last year in San Francisco, and McDougald may be one of Seattle’s most versatile players with the ability to bounce between both strong safety and free safety.
“It’s very reassuring Earl is back,” McDougald said. “I’m happy he’s here and I’m ready to get to work.”
Other subplots as the Broncos try to extend the NFL’s longest active winning streak in openers to seven:
STATING HIS CASE: QB Case Keenum , trying to help the Broncos avoid their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72, figures his Denver debut got a little bit harder with Thomas ending his holdout.
He praised Thomas as one of the best safeties he’s ever faced, insisted, “he can do some things on film that nobody else can do.”
That said, Keenum likes his teammates and his chances.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for 29,” Keenum said. “But we trust our guys running routes and catching the ball versus anybody out there.”
SHAQUEM STARTS: Shaquill Griffin’s twin brother, rookie linebacker Shaquem Griffin, is expected to start against the Broncos with K.J. Wright out following minor knee surgery. It’s another chapter in the remarkable story of Griffin, who had his left hand amputated as a child. While Griffin is a superior athlete, he is undersized for the position and will be challenged both in the run game and trying to defend bigger tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt.
HONORING T.D.: Royce Freeman is set to become the first rookie running back to start Week 1 for the Broncos since Hall of Famer Terrell Davis in 1995. Fellow rookie and local hero Phillip Lindsay, who starred at the University of Colorado, got Davis’ blessing to rock his No. 30 jersey.
“As a running back, it’s special to be able to wear T.D.’s number,” Lindsay said.
COLORADO CONNECTION: Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was once a farmhand of the Colorado Rockies, who drafted him a day before his father died in 2010. “I’m very, very grateful for the Colorado Rockies organization and what they did for me and just gave me a chance and allowed me to take my mind off of my dad, who was my best friend. I’ll never forget that,” Wilson said.
The New York Yankees now hold Wilson’s baseball rights, and while he’s got a great gig now, “I think I’d look pretty good in them, wearing the pinstripes,” Wilson said. “When you put on a Yankee uniform, they say you become immortal.”
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.