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Seattle Seahawks

Steven Terrell embraces new starting role with Seahawks

Seahawks free safety Steven Terrell, right, and cornerback Jeremy Lane break up a pass intended Buccaneers wide receiver Cecil Shorts in late November. (Jason Behnken / Associated Press)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

First things first.

The last name of the Seahawks’ new free safety is pronounced TAIR-ull and not tuh-RELL.

“It’s a common mistake,’’ Steven Terrell said this week. “I get both all the time. It doesn’t bother me.”

It’s a name, though, that Seahawks’ fans suddenly need to know as the 26-year-old Terrell will step in for the injured Earl Thomas – and this time, for the rest of the season, unlike his earlier one-game fill-in at Tampa Bay.

But what some might see as big shoes to fill, Terrell is embracing as the opportunity of a lifetime.

Certainly, it beats where he was in the summer of 2014, when he had no idea if he might have already played the final football game of his life.

After a college career at Texas A&M where he was teammates with the likes of Johnny Manziel and current Seahawks Germain Ifedi and Damontre Moore, Terrell went undrafted. He then spent the 2013 season on the practice squads of Jacksonville and Houston, and then after signing for the 2014 season with the Texans, was waived following the draft in May.

He returned to his home in Allen, Texas, and waited for the phone to ring.

And waited.

And waited.

“It was a tough time for me,” he said. “Just anytime you’re a free agent, you’re just working out and waiting for that opportunity. I had no workouts or anything, so I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I stayed positive and stayed working out.”

Growing antsy, he made arrangements to start working with Performance Course, a Texas-based training program for high school athletes that Terrell had participated in.

“I’m really cool with the owner, he understood and said you can work for me until you get another shot,” Terrell said.

Finally, right before training camps were to begin in late July, the Seahawks gave him a ring.

“The day I was supposed to start working a job was when Seattle called me and I had a workout,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘I can’t take this job, I have to go work.’ … Luckily I got that call from here and I haven’t left since.”

The Seahawks were initially intrigued by Terrell’s speed – he ran a 4.36 40 at Texas A&M’s Pro Day, which would have ranked him fifth at the NFL Combine had he been invited (that was also Christine Michael’s Pro Day, with Seattle taking Michael with its first pick in the draft that year).

Then they grew impressed by his smarts.

“He’s a very intelligent human being, that’s the first thing that stood out,” said defensive coordinator Kris Richard. “He was he was able to grasp football in general, more than just our scheme, just football in general. He’s got a really good memory.”

Terrell played four games in the middle of the 2014 season when injuries hit the secondary but spent most of the year on the practice squad.

But he’s been a backup safety and regular member of the special teams since then, seeing action in 12 games last season and every game this season.

Ifedi, who was a freshman at Texas A&M in 2012 when Terrell was a senior, says Terrell is the last guy who would be awed by the challenge of stepping in for Thomas.

“Losing Earl is huge,” Ifedi said. “But having Steve to back him up is almost like ‘hey we have the best emergency plan there is.’ Because I don’t think there are too many backup safeties or core special teams guys in the league could step in and play how I think he’s going to be able to play.”

Undoubtedly, opponents – beginning Sunday with Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers – will test Terrell down the middle of the field. Thomas’ ability to almost flawlessly handle playing single-high safety is viewed by many as being the key to making Seattle’s defense work. Seattle plays a version of that look up to three-quarters of the time, and it puts a huge weight of responsibility on the safety to cover vast areas of the deep middle of the field and not let anything get behind.

“It’s the foundation of our defense,” Richard said,

Terrell said he knows teams will likely take some shots at him to see how he responds.

“I’m prepared for that,” he said. “You always think teams are going to take shots deep. Teams are going to do what they do. Especially the Packers, Aaron Rodgers takes shots down the field and he’s done that against us in years past with Earl back there. You always have to expect that.”

Richard, though, says the Seahawks don’t plan to change anything – he insists they’ll play their defense with Terrell as they would have with Thomas.

He also says he’s anticipating history repeating itself.

He recalls when Richard Sherman first broke into the lineup in 2011 due to injuries to Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond, or Byron Maxwell taking over in 2013 when Thurmond and Browner were either hurt or suspended.

“It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity for Steven Terrell to step up and show what he’s capable of doing,” Richard said. “Truthfully, we’ve been in these situations before. And you wouldn’t know names like Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane, Walter Thurmond, all of the guys who have come through here and have essentially been able to make a name for themselves, it’s really come through injury. Guys have been prepared and right now Steven is doing a great job of preparing himself to go out there and grab this bull by the horns.”