In Seattle, the secondary comes first

Thurmond is back, but it was Maxwell who started the season finale against the Rams. They're playing because a charter member of the L.O.B., Brandon Browner, is gone, suspended indefinitely for also violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Browner had arguably the best story of the group. He was undrafted, had a short stint with the Broncos, then spent the next four years in the Canadian Football League before Carroll brought him to Seattle. After his first full season in the NFL in 2011, Browner went to the Pro Bowl.

Though Maxwell has fit in perfectly, something isn't right.. They miss Browner. He's been underground since leaving the Seahawks, occasionally posting on his Twitter account, and when he does type something, it's usually a supportive note for his teammates At the top of his page, it says, "Tough Times Don't Last, Tough People Do."

They're a brotherhood. That's the word used most frequently among the secondary. They exchange "I love you's" before each game, unconcerned with how it might sound, because they know it could be the last time they play together.

"I think the biggest key is that the affection the whole group has for each other is genuine," Chancellor said. "There's nothing fake about it at all. We know our brother has our back. If that's the mindset everyone has, we know as a unit we'll be powerful." They vacation together in Miami and take an annual trip to Lake Chelan in Eastern Washington, snorkeling, sitting on a boat, clearing their heads. The entire secondary -- plus a good chunk of the entire team -- went to a Drake concert together recently. The group inclusion is what some believe help the backups seamlessly fit in.

Sherman first met Thomas and Chancellor during the 2011 lockout. They went to an L.A. Fitness to play a game of basketball against some of NBA guard Jamal Crawford's crew. Sherman had never talked to his new teammates before that, but he was struck by how well they played defense together that day.

"We just had a good chemistry out there," he said.

It didn't start out as a lovefest. In those first days together in 2011, the defensive backs, Sherman said, "were a bunch of individuals."

Thomas was the only one with starting experience, and he almost got benched his rookie season in 2010. He was too unpredictable. Maybe his chip was too heavy. The All-American from Texas, desperately trying to prove himself, thought he needed to make big plays. His coaches just wanted him to concentrate on playing the defense they were calling.

"He used to jump all around and chase everything like his head was cut off at times," Carroll said. "He wanted to do the right thing. He just had a young man's perception of it."

Chancellor played the 2010 season behind veteran  Lawyer Milloy. Unlike Thomas, Chancellor had spent the better part of his life unnoticed. His name was spelled wrong by recruiting experts. He went to Virginia Tech as a quarterback, but changed positions twice before he found his home at safety. He waited until the 133rd pick to be selected by Seattle in 2010.

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