By Chris Cluff
Marcus Trufant, CB, #23
Hometown: Tacoma, Wash.
College: Washington State
Experience: 10 Years
The news that Seattle’s starting cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, are likely to be suspended for four games each suddenly puts the spotlight on the team’s oldest player, Marcus Trufant.
If Sherman and Browner are benched starting in Week 14, Trufant will return to the starting lineup for the first time since Week Four of 2011. Granted, he has started as a nickel back twice this season, but he has not been one of the top two corners since early last season, when his problematic back sidelined him for the year after four games and he was replaced by Sherman. While Trufant languished on injured reserve, Sherman played very well as a rookie and earned the starting job for 2012.
It seemed a given that Trufant would not be back, especially after the back issue had limited him to 30 games over three seasons and the Hawks had cut his contract down to one year before the 2011 season. But the Hawks offered him a one-year deal for 2012 and he was willing to take it, along with a reduced role, to stay with the hometown team that had drafted him in the first round in 2003.
Trufant was a star at WSU in the early 2000s, so good that the Hawks drafted him 11th overall in 2003. He became a top corner almost right off the bat, recording two interceptions and 17 passes defended as a rookie. He followed that in his second year with five picks and 15 passes defended, along with 96 tackles.
Shoulder problems and a move to the right side limited his contributions in 2005 and 2006, even though he started 30 games. But in 2007 he moved back to the left side and made the Pro Bowl after picking off seven passes, knocking down 15 more and finishing with 85 tackles. That earned him a $50 million contract over six years — a deal he was never able to live up to on the field.
He played with a broken wrist for most of the 2008 season and then missed all of camp and the first six games in 2009 with the back problem. When he returned, he played the worst football of his life.
In May 2010, he told reporters, “I feel like I’ve got a lot to prove. And I want to come out, and I want to do better for my team. I felt like I not only let myself down, but I let my team down by coming back and not playing at the level that I know I can play at.”
He had a great preseason and seemed poise to regain that 2007 form. He started every game in 2010, Pete Carroll’s first season, but Trufant just never returned to the player he was. That led the Seahawks to ask him to turn much of his 2011 salary into incentives. He agreed to cut his pay from $5.9 million to $3 million. But he still had huge salaries in 2012 ($7.2 million) and 2013 ($8.8 million), and the Hawks cut him after his injury-shortened 2011 season.
Once healthy last spring, he visited Denver and considered signing there, but he decided to return to Seattle when the Seahawks offered him a one-year deal worth $2 million.
“I didn’t really think I’d be back, either. Things kinda fell into place and that’s how it happened,” Trufant told 710 ESPN in April after agreeing to return. “Just because of how things kinda worked out as far as my injuries and with (Sherman and Browner playing) real well last year…it didn’t really seem like there was a spot for me.”
But, he said, “I ended up getting a chance to come back, and I’ve got an opportunity to play a little bit.”
He was OK with the reduced role behind Sherman and Browner.
“Everybody has a different role to play. Sherm, he played off the charts last year, and that’s the same with Browner,” Trufant said. “So I’ve got a role to play. I’m (going to) always compete, but I know I have a role to play and that’s what I plan to do.”
Trufant has played the nickel/slot corner role, but he has had an uneven season, having trouble against quicker receivers such as Detroit’s Titus Young and Miami’s Davone Bess.
He might be better suited to play outside again, although plenty of people think he is pretty close to washed up and that the Hawks will be doomed if Sherman and Browner miss the final four games and Trufant and Walter Thurmond have to start.
The only other corners are rookie Jeremy Lane and injury-prone Byron Maxwell, so — for better or worse — Trufant seems likely to step back into the spotlight, where he spent most of his first nine seasons.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.