At this time last year, the Seattle Seahawks' secondary had its fair share of question marks.
"You can imagine the offseason we had last year, when Earl [Thomas] was hurt and Richard [Sherman] was hurt and Kam [Chancellor] was hurt," coach Pete Carroll said. "All those guys were banged up. And Jeremy Lane of course, he had a terrible time just trying to make it back."
Chancellor was also preparing for a holdout that extended through the first two weeks of the regular season. And free-agent signee Cary Williams was attempting to fit into a new scheme as the starting right cornerback.
This time around, though, the buzzwords surrounding the Seahawks' secondary are continuity and versatility.
"We have really as good a flexibility as we’ve ever had with our guys," Carroll said.
"This is really as strong as I’ve felt we’ve gone into this portion of the year with versatility, and the competition is really going to be on. We’ll hopefully be able to situate that. Kris [Richard] will get it all squared away. We can take advantage of that. It does give us choices, matchup-wise, if it all stays somewhat the same. So that’s a real positive."
Richard served as the Seahawks' third defensive coordinator in four seasons, and while the scheme remained the same for the most part, he found ways to deploy his personnel differently -- specifically at cornerback.
Normally stationed at left cornerback, here you can see Sherman at right corner opposite Brown.
The Seahawks covered No. 1 wide receivers better than any defense in the league, according to Football Outsiders research, and Sherman was the reason why.
The seeds for this year's flexibility were planted late last season. Williams started the first 10 games before being released. Down the stretch, the Seahawks went with Lane and DeShawn Shead at right cornerback and nickel, respectively. The two players have a combined 13 regular-season starts in their careers, but there's a reason why Carroll is fired up about having them both back. Their versatility and specific styles will allow the Seahawks to match up with different kinds of receivers.
In a Week 17 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals last season, Lane often matched up with John Brown. Lane is better equipped than Shead to take on speedy receivers who are threats to do damage vertically, while Shead is the bigger, more physical player.
Here's a look with Lane at right cornerback, Shead in the slot and Sherman at right cornerback.
While it's still early, this is the look the Seahawks are likely to show most often in 2016. But depending on the week and the matchups, they have options to move their corners around.
Even in that same game against the Cardinals, Sherman moved to right corner opposite Michael Floyd, and Lane set up on the left side opposite Brown.
Asked if the flexibility stands out with this group, Sherman offered an interesting answer.
"It stands out with them, but it stands out also with the coaching staff and their trust in the guys," he said. "Because they have to be willing to be flexible in order for us to be flexible. So that also says something to how they’ve grown to trust us and trust our abilities and our mentalities ... in those positions. So I think it’s both sides grown."
Here's a look against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14, when Shead was at right corner and Lane played the slot.
The chart to the right has the breakdown of where the three players lined up last season, per Pro Football Focus research.
The Seahawks' biggest move at cornerback this offseason was to bring Lane back as a free agent. He, Sherman and Shead played the final eight games (playoffs included) together last season, and the group is counting on that continuity paying off.
"We have more of the same guys," Sherman said. "The guys that have been here, that have put in the work, that have grown with the program are starting to flourish. We’re excited to see that. So in terms of depth, we’re doing a great job. We have tremendous depth. We’re happy and content with any number of guys playing with the starting lineup."