RENTON, Wash. -- After All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman went down with a season-ending Achilles injury last month, the Seattle Seahawks repeatedly touted their good fortune to have two former starters in Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane available to step in.
A third could be on the way now that DeShawn Shead has taken a significant step in his return from a knee injury that has kept him on the physically unable to perform list all season. Coach Pete Carroll had been saying for several weeks that Shead was getting close to being able to begin practicing. It finally happened Wednesday.
"It’s been a long haul for him, and anytime you ever heard me talk about him, I would tell you he's ridiculously on it in terms of his rehab and his effort and his preparation and all of that," Carroll said. "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'll take a good look at it with our fingers crossed and high hopes that he'll be able to help us out."
Carroll's mention of Shead having three weeks refers to the rules for players returning from PUP. Once they begin practicing, they have 21 days to be activated or else they're ineligible for the remainder of the season. Technically, a team could activate a player any time during that window. Realistically, though, Shead will need at least two weeks of practice if not all three before he has any chance of playing.
So what has already been a long wait for Shead will at least be a little longer. The 29-year-old underwent reconstructive surgery after tearing his ACL in Seattle's divisional-round loss to Atlanta in January. Then he needed to have a second procedure over the summer to clean up scarring in his knee. That reduced him to a spectator over the first 13 weeks.
"It was definitely tough, tough to go out there and sit on the sidelines and watch your brothers play the game and not be out there with them and be able to go to battle with them," Shead said. "It was definitely a grind, but I'm happy to be back."
Shead rejoins a secondary that has been in flux over the past three months, particularly at cornerback. Lane began the season as the starter on the right side, taking over the job that Shead had held since late in 2015. Lane's groin injury opened the door for rookie Shaquill Griffin to replace him, and with Lane relegated to a high-priced backup, Seattle (8-4) sent him to Houston only to get him back when a failed physical nixed his inclusion in the Duane Brown trade.
Sherman's injury in Week 10 against Arizona pushed Lane back into the starting lineup, this time on the left side, and it led the Seahawks to bring back Maxwell to reinforce their cornerback depth. Maxwell was pressed into action when Griffin suffered a concussion two plays into the Atlanta game in Week 11, which also kept him out the following week versus San Francisco. Maxwell outplayed Lane during those two games, so Seattle made him the starter on the left side when Griffin returned Sunday night against Philadelphia.
Maxwell's performance was a mixed bag. He allowed a 51-yard completion and a 27-yard touchdown, both to Nelson Agholor on scramble plays, and he sealed Seattle's victory with a fourth-quarter interception.
Carroll confirmed Wednesday that Maxwell will remain the starter over Lane.
"I thought he did a good job last week and had a couple plays that were kind of unusual situations, but he played really well throughout and we really like the way he's growing with us and getting back in our style and all," Carroll said. "He's doing a good job.”
With Griffin playing well on the right side, it won't be easy for Shead to reclaim his starting spot. He would never expect it to be given the way his career has gone. Shead played college ball at an FCS school -- Portland State -- and went undrafted in 2012. He spent most of his first two seasons on the Seahawks' practice squad and didn't become a starter until late in his fourth.
He knows he'll have to prove himself all over again.
"I expect to earn my spot back, I expect to earn my way back onto the field," Shead said, emphasizing the word. "Nothing was never given to me, so that's what I know."
Shead's injury came at an interesting time contractually. He had been in the NFL since 2012 but had accrued only three seasons toward free agency, making him a restricted free agent. Buffalo showed interest and the two sides talked numbers, but the Seahawks brought him back on a one-year deal worth as much as $1.2 million.
That represented a raise from the $760,000 he made in 2016. It was a generous amount given the circumstances, with Shead less than two months removed from knee surgery and no certainty about when he'd be back.
"It meant a lot. It meant that they had a lot of trust in me and 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," Shead said. "It means a lot to me that they know who I am and they know that I'm going to come back and come back better than the way I left.
"So for them to trust in me and then give me what they did, I'm not going to let them down."