RENTON Eleven months after his knee disintegrated beneath him trying to make a cut on the fake grass in Atlanta, and five months after a second surgery set him back then finally set him free, DeShawn Shead is back.
Back to practice, anyway.
There’s still a final series of steps on his new knee the Seahawks starting cornerback must take, on the practice field for a couple weeks, before he earns his way back into Seattle’s plans for this season and beyond.
Shead has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Per PUP list rules, he now gets three weeks, until Dec. 27, before the team must decide either he’s ready to play for the first time since tearing ligaments in his left knee during January’s playoff loss to the Falcons, or he needs to finish this season he’s yet to begin on injured reserve. That maximum time to decide ends four days before the regular-season finale at home against Arizona.
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Does the always-determined Shead think he needs all three of those weeks to get back to play in a battered secondary that needs all the reinforcements it can find with Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor out for the season because of their own injuries?
“Honestly, no,” Shead said before Wednesday’s practice for Sunday’s game at Jacksonville he won’t play.
“I think this program, they do a great job with preparing you to get back on the field. The work I did with the training staff and the strength staff. The training staff and the strength staff, they do a great job together to prepare me for the game.
“It’s still different movements. I can do all the running, right? But it’s the little movements I’ve got to get ready for: running to the ball, after a route, or covering a route, running back. Just the little things is, I think, the next step that only practice can give me.
“Me going against guys at real speed, I couldn’t do that under the PUP rules. So now I think that’s what practice is going to give me.
“But overall? If I had my way I would play this Sunday.”
Coach Pete Carroll is more measured in his estimate of when Shead may play again, but not in his excitement for Shead returning to practice.
“First time,” Carroll said, “and we are really fired up for that. It’s been a long haul for him. And anytime you ever heard me talk about him, I would tell you he is ridiculously on it, in terms of his rehab and his effort and his preparation and all of that. I’m thrilled for him to come back to the practice now and have a chance.
“He’s got three weeks to show where he is and all that and we will take a good look at it with our fingers crossed and high hopes that he will be able to help us out.”
Rookie Shaquill Griffin, the third-round pick from Central Florida, has 12 passes defensed in 11 games, seven starts, in the right-cornerback spot Shead had until his injury. Teams have been targeting Griffin each week, but less often now that Sherman has been missing the last three games from left cornerback. Byron Maxwell, a Seahawks’ starter in 2013-14 who re-signed last month, is starting on the left for Sherman now.
Shead has experienced playing all over the Seahawks’ defensive backfield, including at safety and nickel back inside. So with Earl Thomas the only remaining member of the “Legion of Boom” still healthy enough to play in the secondary, the team will be happy to find a place for the versatile and experienced former collegiate decathlete at Portland State who entered the NFL undrafted as a rookie free agent with Seattle in 2012 then scrapped his way to a roster spot on special teams.
“I hope to comeback and be as much as a factor as I was before,” he said. “I expect to earn my spot back. I expect to earn my way back on the field. Nothing was ever given to me. That’s something that’s all I know. I’ve got to go back and prove myself again, and to earn getting back out there and helping my team.”
Shead admits “there’s definitely a couple mental hurdles” he needs to get over in these next weeks, such as being accountable to planting his left leg and pushing off it again.
“I thought I was going to be back the first game of the season. But that’s just my mindset. That’s just me being optimistic. But it’s a daily grind,” he said. “All I could do is take it day by day, and grind. And trust the process.”
This July, six months into his recovery and just as the Seahawks were beginning training camp, Shead had a second surgery. That one was to clean up scar tissue Shead had built in the knee.
“According to the doctor, I am an ‘overhealer,’” Shead said, chuckling now but not then. “I created more scaring in there than was usual.”
He said after the surgeon cleaned out that he felt instantly better and more fluid in the knee.
He snapped his finger to emphasize the change.
“It was like night and day,” he said. “My motion was better.”
Last offseason, after his injury and surgery, Shead was on track to be a restricted free agent. But in early March the Seahawks decided not to tender him a restricted offer. That made him an unrestricted free agent. Still in the beginning stages of his recovery and rehabilitation, he talked to Buffalo this spring about a possible contract.
“We definitely talked, talked numbers and everything,” he said of the Bills. “But ultimately I wanted to be here, with my brothers. I’ve been here since my rookie year. I wanted to be here with my brothers.”
The Seahawks signed him to a one-year contract on March 17, a little more than one week after they made him a free agent.
I asked Shead what it meant to him that a few months after knee reconstruction the Seahawks signed him back instead of keeping him away.
“It meant a lot. It meant they trusted me,” he said. “They know what type of person I was. They knew I was going to attack this process 110 percent, and take it as another challenge to come back and be better than I was before.
“It means a lot to me that they know who I am, and they know that I am going to come back better than I left.
“So for them to trust in me and do what they did, I mean, I’m not going to let them down.”