One thing that makes Seahawks coach Pete Carroll optimistic of a turnaround for his team’s defense is that eventually there will be some continuity — the same 11 or so defensive players playing each week.
That’s the hope, anyway.
There was a time when Carroll didn’t have to worry about that, especially in the secondary — Earl Thomas started 106 straight games from 2010-16 and Richard Sherman 100 straight from 2011-17, with Kam Chancellor also almost always available.
But this year’s secondary — one that many touted as having the potential to be among the best in the NFL after the trade for Jamal Adams — has been a revolving door due to injuries.
That door may not be stopping anytime soon. Carroll on Wednesday said he can’t say whether either of usual starting cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin or Quinton Dunbar will be able to play Sunday against the Rams in Los Angeles.
Neither practiced Wednesday.
Griffin continues to deal with a hamstring injury suffered against Arizona, and Carroll said when he talked to the media via Zoom that Griffin is “running some’’ but that he won’t know until the end of the week if Griffin can play.
Dunbar, meanwhile, continues to battle a chronic knee injury that caused the team to pull him in the late going of Sunday’s 44-34 loss at Buffalo, and Carroll said the team will “have to attend to that.’’
Asked directly if Dunbar will be able to play Sunday, Carroll said only “have to wait and see. I don’t know that yet.’’
Seattle has already started six different starting lineups in eight games in its secondary, and if neither Griffin nor Dunbar is able to start Sunday it would be a seventh, and the first time Seattle would have to go with backups at each corner spot.
“Just a big challenge, no question about that,’’ defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said Wednesday of the almost constant changing of the secondary this season, a not-insignificant factor in Seattle allowing an average of 362 passing yards per game, on pace to break the record for most yards allowed in a season held by the 2011 Green Bay Packers (299.8).
The good news is that Tre Flowers, officially a backup but a starter the last two years, has played well of late filling in at the right cornerback spot. Flowers has started there the past two games with Dunbar moving to take Griffin’s spot on the left side.
But if both Griffin and Dunbar are out, it’s a little less certain who would start, and also who might be on which side — the left side is regarded as the more challenging of the two spots, in part because it’s to the right side of the opposing offense (with most quarterbacks being right-handed).
Linden Stephens stepped in at the left side when Dunbar went out Sunday, getting 15 snaps, and on paper would appear to be the next man up. Stephens, who was on Seattle’s practice squad much of last season and then re-signed in the offseason after having been with Miami late last year, was one of the surprise players in training camp, making the initial 53-player roster.
Norton hinted strongly that Stephens, who went undrafted in 2018 out of Cincinnati, would get the call to play if Dunbar and Griffin can’t.
“Now it’s time for him to certainly step up and we need him to improve and impact us in these games coming up,” Norton said of Stephens, who has played just 52 snaps in his career.
The Seahawks could look to D.J. Reed and Ryan Neal as well.
Reed has been the starting nickel the past two games, but in one piece of good health news for the Seahawks, Ugo Amadi practiced Wednesday on a limited basis and could return this week after missing the past two games with a hamstring injury.
Neal has started four games this year at strong safety in place of Jamal Adams but also has cornerback experience.
It seems likely the Seahawks would leave Flowers on the right side, which is the only spot he has played in his Seattle career.
Due to injuries to Dunbar and Griffin, Flowers — a fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2018 — has started four games this season and has played almost as much as the other two (Flowers has 370 snaps to 397 for Dunbar and 422 for Griffin).
And via Pro Football Reference, Flowers has allowed a lower passer rating (106.2) than either Dunbar (111) or Griffin (113.1) and has been particularly good the last three games, allowing ratings of 81.2, 71.9 and 65.1.
That’s a vast turnaround from the Dallas and Miami games, when in back-to-back weeks Flowers allowed 22 completions in 27 targets for 279 yards.
In the past three games, Flowers has allowed 10 completions on 18 targets for just 93 yards.
Carroll said several times in training camp that he thought Flowers was playing the best he had in his career. The early games didn’t back that up. But Carroll says the past few weeks have validated his early optimism.
“He’s come right back to the focus he intended to bring to camp,’’ Carroll said. “A couple weeks back it started and you could see him click in technique-wise playing really solid, and like you said, he is. You can see the confidence in everything that he’s doing. I’m looking forward to seeing him come out again against good receivers and put together another good game.’’
Flowers’ emergence could mean the Seahawks could try to buy some time for Dunbar’s knee to get better if Griffin could return.
But if Griffin can’t play, then the Seahawks could be left trying to assess if Dunbar can give it a go again or if they try someone new.
Seattle on Wednesday also declared Neiko Thorpe back to practice after he missed the last six games with a sports hernia injury. But he might not be available for another week or so. Thorpe also has never started a game for the Seahawks (and has two in his career) with main role as special teams captain.
“Just got to try to put it all together,’’ Norton said. “Try to mold it and work.’’