Through the first week of training camp, Seattle’s top four outside cornerbacks have all gotten off to strong starts in what is shaping up to be a competitive battle for starting jobs.John Boyle
As a pass floated into the corner of the end zone with DK Metcalf running towards the back pylon, it looked like the Seahawks offense was on its way to a touchdown, hardly a shameful result for the defense seeing as Metcalf already has 29 touchdown receptions in his three-year career.
But just when it looked like Metcalf was going to secure another touchdown, rookie cornerback Coby Bryant showed off why he was considered one of college football's top defensive backs last season, tracking the ball perfectly while maintaining tight coverage, getting a hand up just in time to bat the ball away.
It was the kind of play Bryant has been making throughout his first training camp in the NFL, and also the type of play that makes Bryant look like a legitimate candidate to start as a rookie despite being a fourth-round pick (how, by the way, did the reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner last until the fourth round?).
It was also, however, not too different than the type of plays we've also seen from the likes of Artie Burns, Sidney Jones IV and rookie Tariq Woolen, illustrating just how competitive that position group has been early in camp.
Jones, who started 11 games last season, and Burns, a free-agent addition and former first-round pick who spent the past two seasons in Chicago, have been the starting cornerbacks with the No. 1 defense so far, and neither have looked at all like players who are interesting in giving up those spots.
And while that's good news for Seattle's defense, it means it's going to be tough for Bryant or Woolen to move into the starting lineup despite strong starts to their first NFL camp. And this is before the Seahawks get back Tre Brown, a 2021 fourth-round pick who is currently on the physically unable to perform list, and who briefly took over a starting role last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The nickel spot is also competitive, with veteran Justin Coleman trying to hold off challenges from Marquise Blair and Ugo Amadi.
"Right now, Artie and Sid have done some good things," defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said earlier this week. "Artie had a couple good PBUs today, as did Coby. We're just continuing to see that progression in the competition come along with those four guys, nothing is solidified. We will see them continue to compete every day, but we are excited about the two young kids too."
For Jones, a former University of Washington standout who was acquired in a trade just before the start of last season, being pushed by the rookies behind him and Burns is an exciting challenge that should only benefit the entire team.
"Competition is great," Jones said. "You've got to embrace it and rise to the occasion. Even though it is competition, you still have to worry about yourself and what you can do, and know yourself and what you bring to the table. Whenever those guys are doing good, I'm clapping my hands to them, no doubt. I love it, because when they're doing good, it's better for the team. If they're growing and competing and doing well, that's great for all of us."
And echoing a message frequently preached by Pete Carroll, Jones said the competition isn't with Bryant or Woolen, but with himself.
"As players, every one of us has to come to work and lock in and do our job and be held accountable to that, and do the best of our ability," Jones said. "We have a standard, and we want to maximize our potential, and every day we try to do that. It's more so looking at, how are you going to maximize yourself today, how are young going to be the best version of you? And not worrying about everything else that could possibly be going on. So that's how I try to simplify everything and best the best version of myself every day, and I feel like the best version of myself is enough.
"Every time I line up, the guy across from me is trying to destroy you... If you come out there and you don't have your (stuff) together, it might not be a good day for you, and you never want that. So make sure when you step on the field, it's go time so you don't have to look by like, 'Damn, I wasn't ready.' That mentality of, 'I'm ready today, it's go time.'"
Bryant, who was targeted frequently in college playing opposite Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, the No. 4 overall pick in this year's draft, has seen plenty of action early in camp and he welcomes the challenge of going head-to-head with the likes of Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
"Me being a competitor that I am, I love it," he said. "I don't like days where I don't get targeted because I feel like I'm not getting better. But, even when those days do happen, I have to do something different that I didn't do to make myself better."
And while Bryant had one of the day's best plays on Tuesday when matched up with Metcalf, it has been Burns, who lined up against Metcalf last season when the Seahawks hosted the Bears, who has most often been tasked with covering one of the NFL's most talented receivers. And in those reps against Metcalf, and throughout camp, Burns has shown why the Seahawks went after him in free agency.
"I've been really familiar with Artie since high school," said Hurtt. "I was at Louisville when he was coming out of Miami Northwestern High School. The one thing that I have always known is that he has great size, length, athleticism, speed, and was an All-American track kid coming out, so he had all of the tools. He has been in various defensive systems and whatnot, to have the opportunity to bring him here, it's hard to find a kid with those kind of measurables and talent. We still feel like he is an ascending player and sure enough, he has familiarity with the scheme from being in Chicago last year. You've seen that benefit pay off since he has been here. He has great command, helps out the young guys, and I see the arrow going up on Artie on where he's going."
In Chicago, Burns played under then defensive coordinator Sean Desai, who is now Seattle's associate head coach-defense. Burns played some of his best football late last season in Desai's defense, which factored both into his decision to come to Seattle, and into the Seahawks' decision to pursue him. Burns also liked the idea of being part of a Seahawks defense given the team's recent history on that side of the ball, and acknowledged he almost signed here two years ago before picking Chicago in large part to be closer to his two sons.
"The defense is something Seattle has leaned on over the years," Burns said. "... Two offseasons ago I had a chance to come here, but I chose Chicago. I just wanted to come out there and be with Pete Carroll, and Sean Desai ended up getting a job here too, so a lot of familiar faces that I knew before."
Burns' sons are now 8 and 5 and his family has joined him in the Pacific Northwest, making the cross-country move more palatable for the Florida native, and he's enjoying the change so far, and enjoying the competition with what he calls a "super talented" group of corners.
"We all can run, that's the upside," he said. "Everybody's challenging, and that's a good environment for everybody to get better."