They say that many things seem to get better with time. That is certainly the case for Seattle Seahawks safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. The two safeties came into the NFL together; both were selected by Seattle in the 2010 NFL Draft. Thomas was a first round selection while Chancellor was drafted in the fifth round.
Kendrick Lewis discusses safety tandems
Thomas and Chancellor have been able to develop from mere prospects into All-Pros. They form half of a Seahawks secondary that is the fourth-ranked pass defense in the NFL. To many, this safety tandem is the measuring stick for the position.
Pete Carroll has become somewhat of a “defensive back whisperer” after having developed so many outstanding defensive backs. His high energy way of attacking the game is infectious. Carroll is a fierce competitor that forces his team to compete during practice every week. That competitiveness has truly manifested itself in Thomas and Chancellor.
Carroll has been impressed with the development of the Ravens safeties this season. “I think this whole back end is really aggressive. They have a style about them. They mix their coverages well,” Carroll said. “They disguise and fit together well and give you problems. Will [Hill] is another guy that I knew for a long time [when he was] growing up. We recruited him, too, so I watched him play. These guys are good football players, good all-around guys that can make big plays, and they’ll hit you, too.”
That assessment is very similar to what many have said about Thomas and Chancellor in the past. Will Hill and Kendrick Lewis have made it their mission to sure up the back end of the Ravens secondary. Lewis was brought in because of his ball hawking ability along with his communication skills. He is a heads up football player.
Hill, on the other hand, is the thumper of the two. He is the enforcer that will come up and lay hits on receivers running crossing routes, much like Chancellor is. The two safeties are known for the way they fly around and make plays. Russell Wilson has watched their film as he prepared for Sunday’s game against the Ravens.
Wilson came away very impressed with both Hill and Lewis. “They fly around, first of all. Will Hill comes up and hits you and makes plays; he’s playing good football, and same thing with ‘23’ [Kendrick Lewis], too,” Wilson said. “They’re flying around. Both of them are just all over the field. So, we have to know where those guys are and make plays and try to find ways to capitalize on opportunities. But I think that those guys have really shown up on film, in terms of coming up and making tackles and making plays.”
Hill and Lewis have not completed their first season together yet, however, they can sense how the chemistry is growing with every game. John Harbaugh sees that and recognizes the fact that he has a couple of young players on his hands that will only get better with more time together.
“I think they [Will Hill III and Kendrick Lewis] are really improving. They’re young guys. We lose sight of is how many games those guys have actually played in the National Football League. Kendrick has played in a lot of games, but he’s only in, maybe, his fourth year in the league, and Hill maybe has two years under his belt.” Harbaugh said. “They’ve improved tremendously, and we’ve just got to keep coaching them up. They’re very willing; they’re very coachable. I talked to Will about a number of things in the last three weeks and every single one of those things, he has diligently and conscientiously improved on in the game. And as a coach, that’s really what you look for. So, they’re both talented, and they’re both doing well.”
One of the areas that needed to improve is communication. The two safeties have worked on communication since training camp. The results are starting to show. It’s not easy to develop the chemistry and communication that allows two safeties to play on the same page constantly.
Dean Pees has seen the defense improve, especially over the last four weeks. The Ravens have given up only four passing plays of 25 or more yards in their last four games. That ties them for the second-fewest over the last four weeks. The Ravens gave up 22 passing plays of 25 or more yards over the first eight weeks of the season.
Pees shared what he feels is the best thing to develop chemistry. “It’s just hard to get used to how somebody plays, how they communicate and when they communicate. The more guys play together, the better it is. You get used to playing beside [someone], it’s invaluable. I think it is, when you have continuity on either side of the ball.”
Lewis has made it a goal to learn how Hill will react to receivers running different routes. He said it helps him figure out where he will need to be to protect him against different route combinations. True chemistry comes second nature. There is no need to overthink things. You just react and that’s what allows a player to play fast.
A part of playing fast requires a thorough understanding of defensive concepts, which is something that Lewis has worked to master. He’s learning to play within the defense. The results are showing as well. Lewis had a crucial forced fumble against the Miami Dolphins that put the Ravens in the position to win the game with a field goal.
Things are beginning to look positive for the Ravens safeties. Lewis knows that Seattle has a great safety duo. At the same time, he feels the Ravens are building the foundation for their own very good one.
“We try to compete. We tell ourselves ‘Let’s be the best safeties on the field.’ Chemistry helps, you get a great feel for how a guy plays, how he reacts to things,” Lewis said. “You kind of gain a sense of seeing things through the same eyes when you’re watching film together and on the field. With chemistry, in time, it becomes a brotherhood. They embraced me with open arms. It helps, I fit right in.”