RENTON — Quentin Jammer is already chuckling before he begins to tell the story of how he hardened his little brother in the front yard of their home in Angleton, Texas.
“It wasn’t abuse …” Jammer insists now, a classic older-brother preface to any good little-brother hijinks.
As with most things Jammer did with his little brother, Quandre Diggs, this story revolved around football.
“I used to make him stand out in yard,” Jammer begins, “and I would throw the ball at him as hard as I could. He had to catch it. He had to use his hands. If the ball got into his body, it was going to hurt.”
It was all those moments, all those throws in the yard, that shaped Diggs’ path to the NFL — and into the Seattle Seahawks’ secondary — and strengthened a unique relationship between brothers.
Jammer and Diggs are 13 years apart. Their mother often lived and worked in Houston, 45 miles up the South Freeway, which meant the boys spent long stretches with their grandmother. But before and after school, it was Jammer’s responsibility to care for Diggs.
“I didn’t think of it as a responsibility at all. That’s my little brother, you know,” Jammer says. “I was just doing what I was supposed to be doing.”
When Jammer became a star cornerback at Angleton High, Diggs was there, in the locker room and on the sideline. When Jammer became an All-American at the University of Texas, Diggs was there too, attending practices and trash-talking his brother’s teammates.
And when Jammer became the No. 5 overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft, Diggs was there, the 9-year-old standing on stage and posing for pictures.
“Literally, my best friend,” Diggs says. “We’re 13½ years apart, but at the end of the day, the bond me and him share, it’s unbreakable. … He’s been in my corner through it all.”
All those throws in the front yard? They worked perfectly, Jammer says now.
Diggs not only followed his brother’s football footsteps — from Angleton High to Texas to the NFL — but in at least one respect the little brother is better.
“He definitely has better ball skills than I had,” says Jammer, 40, now retired in San Diego after a 12-year NFL career. “I had strong hands. He has great hands. I wish I would’ve had somebody throwing me the ball that hard in the yard.”
In his Seahawks debut two weeks ago, Diggs had an interception in Seattle’s thrilling Monday night victory in San Francisco.
In Philadelphia last week, he forced a fumble and had a fumble recovery, and it’s probably not a coincidence that the Seahawks’ two best defensive games have come with Diggs playing free safety.
What has Diggs meant to the Seahawks secondary so far?
When describing the influence Diggs has had two games in, Seattle coach Pete Carroll evoked the name of none other than Earl Thomas.
Carroll loves Diggs’ intensity, loves his focus, loves his awareness on the field. And doesn’t that sound familiar?
“It’s just his presence,” Carroll said of Diggs. “I showed his highlights (to the team) of him flying across the field, just like I used to show Earl’s stuff.”
Jammer saw that comment from the Seahawks coach.
“That,” Jammer said, “is probably the highest compliment you can bestow upon a new guy just coming into Seattle and getting to do some of the same things that Earl did.”
The ties to Thomas are nothing new for Diggs.
Like Thomas, Diggs grew up in a small southeast Texas town. Like Thomas, and like his older brother, Diggs went on to star at Texas. And like Thomas, the 5-foot-9 Diggs is a little undersized for the typical NFL safety.
Thomas and Diggs are friends, Jammer said, and Diggs has been studying Thomas’ play for years, going back to when Diggs was in high school.
Carroll was asked a follow-up question about his new safety: Is Diggs the team’s best in-season acquisition of Carroll’s tenure here?
To which Carroll tried to pump the brakes: “Let’s give him some time. He’s only played two weeks.”
No, it’s probably not fair to ask Diggs — or anyone — to be everything Thomas was during the Legion of Boom glory days.
But it seems that Diggs has, at the very least, introduced a level of confidence and comfort at the back-end of the defense not felt since Thomas’ departure.
“I’ve always just kept track of (Diggs) because I thought he was a rare player in what he was willing to try to do,” Carroll said. “Some guys play by the book and they’re really conservative. He’s not.”
A safety set free in Seattle
Jammer is the first person Diggs calls after every game, and Jammer was the first person to call Diggs on the morning of Oct. 23.
That’s when news began to spread that Diggs had been traded from Detroit to the Seahawks, with Seattle sending a fifth-round draft choice to the Lions.
Diggs, a team captain with the Lions, later said he was “blindsided” by the trade, and the reaction from players and fans in Detroit indicated an equal amount of surprise by the deal, which came 13 months after Diggs signed a three-year, $18.6 million extension with the Lions.
In their initial discussion about the trade, Jammer said he tried to calm his brother down.
“I said, ‘Hey, bro, look at the bright side: You’re going to a team that’s a perennial winner. It’s not like you’re going to Cincinnati or Cleveland,’” Jammer recalled.
It has been suggested that Diggs’ strong personality — he described himself as “blunt” — wore on Detroit coach Matt Patricia, a product of the Bill Belichick coaching tree.
“He’s definitely one to tell it like it is,” Jammer said of his brother. “He doesn’t know any other way.”
In Seattle, Diggs joined a locker room that included one of his closest friends, Tyler Lockett. He described a “first class” experience with the Seahawks so far.
“I’ve just enjoyed every second of it,” he said. “These guys let me be myself.”
Diggs said he gets a kick out of Carroll, who during pregame warmups likes to run around with the defensive backs, cutting in and out of breaks.
“I’ve always wanted to learn how to play football the best way,” Diggs said. “It’s only my second full year at safety. I think people forget that. I think people forget that last year was my first full year and I was a Pro Bowl alternate.”
Jammer has been watching closely from San Diego, and he likes the fit for Diggs and for the Seahawks.
“I really like the way they put him into that Earl role,” Jammer said. “He’s a football player. He can do it all.”