JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Even if the Seahawks haven’t really had a previous encounter on the field with Denver tight end Julius Thomas — we’ll exclude an exhibition game from this conversation — they’ve seen him before.
They’ve seen Thomas in the form of New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham, Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis, all tall, gifted tight ends who might as well be wide receivers.
“Very similar,” Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor said of Thomas, who will face the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. “He’s just another athletic tight end with good hands.”
Seattle coach Pete Carroll used much the same phrasing to describe Thomas, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound former basketball player at Portland State who caught 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013, a breakout season in his third year in the NFL.
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“He’s very similar to Jimmy Graham and all the guys that we have dealt with all year long,” Carroll said. “So we have all the same issues and problems that we’ve had during the season.”
Seattle, though, has usually turned those issues and problems into answers and solutions, making Davis, Graham and Gonzalez into mostly nonfactors in regular-season and playoff games.
In six games (three against Davis, two against Graham and one against Gonzalez) Seattle held that trio of tight ends to 15 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns, or an average of 2.5 catches a game for 22.6 yards. That compares to a season average for those three of more than four catches per game and 62 yards.
Chancellor is hardly the sole reason for that success. Everyone in the secondary had their hand at defending tight ends, as did some of the linebackers, specifically K.J. Wright. Thomas, like the others, often lines up wide as a receiver, or in the slot, and the Seahawks rarely adjust their coverage to match up to a specific player.
But because of where he lines up, at strong safety, Chancellor often took the lead role guarding tight ends and could well do so again against Thomas, whom Seattle has played against only in an exhibition game in August.
Not that Chancellor felt like giving away any secrets during his session with the media Monday.
“Nothing specific,” Chancellor said when asked to explain Seattle’s success defending tight ends this season. “Just playing our defense every snap … we just play ball. At the end of the day, football is running and hitting and I think our defense does a good job effectively doing it.”
The quote was vintage Chancellor, who is becoming the prototype soft-speaking, hard-hitting safety in his fourth year in the NFL.
It’s hard to argue Chancellor is overlooked as he was named to the Pro Bowl for a second time and also selected as a second team AP All-Pro.
Still, the Seahawks’ defensive headlines tend more often to go to cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas, each of whom drew consideration as defensive player of the year.
Teammates, though, think Chancellor should have been in that talk.
“Kam, he’s been the best player on our defense the whole season, I think,’’ defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “He’s one of the best players in the NFL. I’m surprised he’s not up for defensive player of the year.’’
The Seahawks recognized Chancellor’s value last offseason when they made him the first of their young, core defensive players to get a big contract. Rather than let him play out the final year of his rookie deal, the Seahawks gave Chancellor an extension through the 2017 season that could pay him as much as $35 million and included $17 million guaranteed.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider said the team will always use a case-by-case basis in deciding whether to extend contracts before they run out, but said last week there was no hesitation with Chancellor, 25, a fifth-round pick out of Virginia Tech in 2010.
“There’s certain guys that, A, you just can’t afford to extend that at that time, or, B, you just want to see how they handle things,’’ Schneider said. “If you’re confident in an individual — we were able to redo Kam last year, and you know Kam’s going to be out there just being a pro every single day.”
Chancellor, in fact, played the second-most defensive snaps of any Seahawk this year, 1,006 of 1,042 (Thomas was first at 1,008).
Chancellor said the contract was “motivation to get more. It was a testament to them to show that hard work pays off. I think I have been a guy here just grinding the whole time. Doing everything they ask. They took care of me, and I’m taking care of them.”
And, he hopes, one more time this season also taking care of Seattle’s tight end “issues and problems.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.