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Sports >  Seattle Seahawks

Playing for ‘peanuts’ helped Seahawks’ Byron Maxwell stick in the NFL

Seattle Seahawks’ Byron Maxwell (41) intercepts a pass intended for Philadelphia Eagles’ Nelson Agholor in the end zone during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Seattle. (John Froschauer / Associated Press)
Seattle Seahawks’ Byron Maxwell (41) intercepts a pass intended for Philadelphia Eagles’ Nelson Agholor in the end zone during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Seattle. (John Froschauer / Associated Press)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

As a rookie with the Seahawks in 2011, Byron Maxwell looked around the locker room and knew that simply making the team as a sixth-round pick wasn’t going to be easy.

Joining him on the roster that year was Richard Sherman, taken in the fifth round, and Brandon Browner, signed as a free agent. And already on the roster were Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond.

“I was like ‘man, I’ve got to stay on the field, so let me think of ways besides interceptions of staying on the field,’’’ he said.

One thing Maxwell decided might set him apart on a team whose motto is “It’s All About The Ball’’ was forcing fumbles.

So Maxwell began working on perfecting ways to knock the ball out of the hands of receivers who came his way.

One day, Rocky Seto, then the team’s assistant defensive backs coach who had figured out this was a desire of Maxwell’s, showed him some video of veteran cornerback Charles “Peanut’’ Tillman, who played 13 years in the NFL and forced 44 fumbles with what became known as the “Peanut Punch.’’

“We illustrated another guy in the league (Tillman) that was great at it and tried to get all of our guys to imitate him and copy him and he just picked up on it,’’ said Seattle coach Pete Carroll “It just became something that he was really good at and so it’s been a specialty of his.”

One that Maxwell demonstrated anew at a pretty key time for the Seahawks last Sunday.

With Seattle trailing 6-0 and Dallas having just taken over at its own 35 late in the second quarter, Maxwell used his right hand to punch the ball out of the arms of Dallas receiver Dez Bryant for a fumble that Seahawks linebacker K.J Wright recovered at the 43.

Seattle quickly scored its first touchdown of the game, and while Dallas would briefly retake the lead, control seemed to shift the way of the Seahawks for good.

“Our whole energy and momentum changed after that,’’ said Maxwell of what became a 21-12 win for the Seahawks that kept their playoff hopes alive.

It was the 11th forced fumble of Maxwell’s career and by far the biggest play he has made in his second tour with the Seahawks.

Maxwell was re-signed in November following the loss of Sherman to a season-ending Achilles injury and has stayed rooted since then at the left cornerback spot that had been Sherman’s, relegating veteran Jeremy Lane to the bench.

Maxwell also had five tackles and a pass defense Sunday as a secondary that featured three starting cornerbacks who were not on Seattle’s roster this time a year ago — rookie Shaq Griffin and nickel Justin Coleman the others — held the Cowboys to 182 passing yards and Bryant to 44 on three receptions.

“He was just solid across the board and very aggressive in his coverage, tackled well, big turnover,’’ Carroll said. “He just looked like he was on it and he has been a terrific addition. Our ability to find him and (general manager) John (Schneider’s) to get him in our locker room at the time when after losing Sherman was really a factor and fired up to see him play well.”

Not that Maxwell was overly difficult to locate.

He had been released by Miami in October following a disappointing year-and-a-half with the Dolphins, who acquired him in 2016 following one year with the Eagles, who signed him to a six-year deal that included $25 million guaranteed in 2015.

Maxwell also had a tryout with Atlanta — where former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is coach — but was happy to reunite with the Seahawks.

Maxwell did have a few shining moments in Miami — he forced four fumbles there in 2016 when the stories were retold of how he learned his Peanut Punch technique (one he had previously used most famously in forcing a fumble by Denver’s Demaryius Thomas in Seattle’s 43-8 Super Bowl win over the Broncos).

While it might seem relatively easy, Carroll and some other Seahawks note that the trickiest part is that if a player goes for the punch then he is potentially giving up on the tackle and if the ballcarrier escapes it could turn into a big gain.

“That’s a very difficult choice and it’s why guys don’t try it more because they want to secure the tackle and make sure that they don’t miss the opportunity and the guy is running down the sidelines,’’ Carroll said. “There’s a real knack to it. There’s a timing and a feel for it.”

Maxwell said a lot of it comes down to understanding where on the field the play is occurring and where all of his teammates are.

“The ball is everything in football so why not take a chance?’’’ Maxwell said. “Plus, I just feel like we’ve got guys rallying to the ball here so I can take a lot more shots at the ball and they are going to have my back.’’

Maxwell said he felt the time was right when Bryant got the ball Sunday.

“This is my opportunity,’’ he said he thought to himself as Bryant caught the pass.

So was coming back to Seattle, where six games into his second stint with the team he is beginning to feel as if never left.

“It’s fun being back,’’ he said. “Everybody rushes to the ball, we are just out there trying to win championships. It’s not like that everywhere else.’’

What he also knows is he doesn’t want to leave. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the season, just as he was in 2014. But his situation has changed now, and having made life-altering money already, location may prove to be more important this time.

“Yeah, I would love to stay here,’’ he said. “We’ll see if we can make it happen.’’

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