How athletic are these Seahawks? They had not one but two decathletes on their field during the first week of training camp.
One was Jeremy Taiwo. Coach Pete Carroll invited the former Washington Huskies track star to stop by the Seahawks’ third camp practice on his way to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics. That’s where Taiwo is representing the United States in the Olympic Games.
Just one of many reasons Taiwo is remarkable: In 2011, he won UW’s first conference championship in the decathlon in 25 years – with one arm. He had to throw the javelin with his off, left arm because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Last week, Taiwo walked on the Seahawks’ field at the end of practice wearing a white Russell Wilson Pro Bowl jersey. The players encircled Taiwo, who attended Newport High School minutes from Seahawks quarters, to “break down” the team. That is, to lead it in its rousing, daily adjournment from practice.
Taiwo beamed. He bent at the waist, clapped and barked like … a former Dawg. The Seahawks echoed him, then roared.
“Thank you @seahawks for the Send-off!” Taiwo posted on his Instagram account. “It was so incredible meeting you all, and I’m proud to represent Renton with you guys!”
The other decathlete at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center last week? He appears to have the inside track to be Seattle’s new, full-time starter at right cornerback.
Entering Monday, DeShawn Shead had been the No. 1 right cornerback for most of the first eight practices.
Carroll has stockpiled his roster with athleticism. It’s the trait, along with competitiveness, he covets most on these Seahawks.
Shead may be the most accomplished athletically. In addition to playing football, he was a hurdler his freshman year at High land High School in Palmdale, Calif.
“But I was a little bit of a daredevil growing up,” he says. “So I decided I wanted to do the pole vault.”
When Shead was 14, his coach turned his two track events into 10.
“I was already a pole vaulter and I was a pretty good hurdler, and my coach goes, ‘You can already do the two hardest events. You can pole vault. You can hurdle. Why not throw all the other events together?’ ” Shead said. “So he threw me into decathlon, and that became my thing.”
That thing was running, jumping, throwing, sprinting, hurdling and vaulting. He finished fourth in the decathlon for Portland State at the Big Sky Conference track championships in 2009. That makes him one of the most athletic players in the NFL.
“I’m blessed to be able to have the ability to do all those things,” Shead said. “I think it transfers to the football field, because I don’t think everyone could go out and be strong safety at the line of scrimmage, hit 300-pound linemen, then go line up against a 180-pound wide receiver and run with them down the field. So I think it takes a lot of skill and lot of responsibility.”
Carroll calls Shead a “great story for us in our program.” Plus, as the coach noted: “He has had a fantastic offseason this year, the best by far he has ever had.”
Shead is manhandling opposing receivers at the line. He has primarily played as an extra safety and special-teams mainstay from his arrival with Seattle in 2012 as an undrafted rookie free agent.
He plays cornerback like a safety, a blend he says is easier for him because of his career as a decathlete. At safety, Shead said he has to know “the whole picture”: formations, plus the gaps and blocking schemes of offensive linemen in the run and pass games.
Last season, cornerback Cary Williams failed to master the Seahawks’ step-kick technique of jamming receivers at the line. Strong safety Kam Chancellor missed the first two games holding out, then was injured for others. Free safety Earl Thomas was never fully healthy because of a shoulder injury.
So Shead made five starts at cornerback and one at strong safety. Sometimes, he would play one series at strong safety, another at free safety and then the next series at right cornerback. You can count on one hand – or finger – how many players in the league do that. Then again, few if any NFL players have been a competitive decathlete.
“It helps a lot, just in the transition,” Shead said. “In decathlon, you have to transition from one event to the next event within 30 minutes in a competition. Just the transition and changing of mindsets, techniques and abilities, I think it transfers on the field.”
As for Taiwo, his competition begins Aug. 17. Shead will be watching.
“I’m a big track guy,” he said. “I was watching Jeremy, Ashton Eaton and all those guys at the (U.S. Olympic) Trials. That was really cool having him out here.”