Pete Carroll has always had good defensive backs -- whether he inherited them or coached them up himself.
In Minnesota, he had Carl Lee and Joey Browner. With the New York Jets, he had James Hasty, Erik McMillan and Brian Washington. In San Francisco, it was Tim McDonald, Merton Hanks and Eric Davis. And in New England it was Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law.
Carroll also had nine of his USC defensive backs drafted in his 10 years there, led by safety Troy Polamalu.
But Carroll has done perhaps his best work in Seattle, where he, general manager John Schneider and secondary coaches Kris Richard and Rocky Seto have created their own DB factory.
Schneider picks them in the late rounds, and they go through The Pete Carroll Secondary School under the tutelage of Richard and Seto, who coached under Carroll at USC and came to Seattle with him in 2010. Richard also played for Carroll at USC and was drafted by Mike Holmgren's Seahawks in 2002 and played three seasons in Seattle.
Carroll and his crew got rave reviews for turning CFL free agent Brandon Browner and fifth-round picks Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman into Pro Bowl-caliber players over the past three years. And now their latest projects are ascending.
With Browner injured (and appealing a one-year NFL suspension) and No. 3 corner Walter Thurmond suspended the past three games (with one to go), former sixth-round picks Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane have stepped right in and the defense has not missed a beat.
Maxwell had two great interceptions in New York on Sunday, giving him three picks in the past two games. He did not allow a catch in five targets and was the only player to play all 53 defensive snaps.
While Lane did not get in on any of the Hawks' five interceptions (Sherman had two and Earl Thomas had one), the second-year corner played perhaps his best game yet. He allowed four catches on seven targets, but he gave up just 22 yards on those receptions. And he was great on special teams, as usual.
"When you have players like Byron Maxwell, who’s showing his true talents on the biggest stage and getting a chance to showcase his talents, you’re so proud of these guys," Sherman told reporters Sunday. "They’re getting a chance to shine and they’re shining. You have guys like Jeremy Lane who are playing outstanding football and showing their talents, getting a chance to shine and be the guys that we all knew they could be."
Carroll agreed, telling 710 ESPN on Monday: "It's exciting for us. It's kind of not a big deal because we've seen them so much and they've had so much work against our best guys that we know what they're capable of doing. That's why I haven't been concerned about the fact that they would step up."
Maxwell, picked in the same 2011 draft that brought Sherman, could not stay healthy for much of his first two seasons. But he is healthy now, and he and Lane have made people forget the Hawks are even missing Browner and Thurmond.
In fact, the Hawks figure to save themselves some money in the offseason thanks to their training of Maxwell and Lane; they don't need to be concerned about paying anything more than minimum contracts to the troubled Browner and Thurmond. And Schneider can always draft another DB or two to put into The Pete Carroll Secondary School.
"I think it’s a great statement about our system of guys that play," Carroll said. "These guys are in the system and they know how to do what we want them to do and they’re playing with great technique and great attitude that is getting them the chance to make these kinds of plays."
Carroll and Schneider have used nine of their 39 draft picks on defensive backs, and six of them have turned into starting-caliber players.
"We're getting real fast guys and long guys, too. That's what we're looking for," Carroll said. "And they've just been indoctrinated into the system. Kris Richard and Rocky Seto have done a fantastic job with these guys, training them. They're really, really strict.
"They (the players) look the same somewhat as they play -- the way they step and the way they challenge at the line of scrimmage, the way they finish," Carroll added. "This is a long, long process to get these guys to where they are. But now they're in the system and it doesn't matter who steps in and plays."