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The Seahawks' dubious No. 1 ranking

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- The Seattle Seahawks rank first in the NFL in defense, but they also lead the league in a less-coveted category: drug suspensions.

Depending on how you count corner Richard Sherman, who successfully appealed his Adderall ban over problems with the testing procedure, the Seahawks have run afoul of league testing guidelines either seven or eight times since 2011. That's an amazing number. The last time the Eagles had somebody suspended for flunking a drug test was 2009, when Joselio Hanson sat out four games for taking a banned diuretic (which could have masked steroid use).

Granted, some of the Seahawks suspensions, including the two incurred this past season, by corners Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner, are for marijuana. That isn't steroids, and one could argue that it might be about time for the league to stop sniffing out weed altogether. But some of the suspensions reportedly have been for performance-enhancing drugs (the league doesn't announce the substance), including the four games served in 2012 by guard Allen Barbre, who is now an Eagle.

Jim Harbaugh, coach of San Francisco, the Seahawks' most bitter rival, chided Seattle in the offseason, noting that you don't want to do things that make people question the basis for your success. (Somewhere, Bill Belichick looked at a video camera and sighed.)

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, for all the success he has enjoyed at USC and in Seattle, has a reputation as someone who doesn't always follow the rules. He left USC in 2010 just ahead of crippling NCAA sanctions that Los Angeles Times writer Bill Plaschke opined turned Carroll's reputation there "from saint to scallywag."

Asked Wednesday about the suspensions affecting how the Seahawks are perceived, Carroll said: "No, I'm really not concerned with that. I think anybody has an opportunity to say what they want to say about what's happened in the past. I think we're a young team that's learning how to work with the guidelines and all of that. I think if you look back on the individuals that were involved in the PEDs and all of that kind of stuff, there's a spread of guys from years ago, and the numbers kind of add up. But I'm not concerned about where it's going; I'm not concerned about the message. We would like to do right and get better, so we're trying to improve and learn from everything that comes along."

Carroll earlier this week said he thought the NFL ought to look into utilizing medicinal marijuana, which is legal in 20 states. Both the Super Bowl states, Washington and Colorado, have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

It's hard to ignore that the Seahawks are here without Browner, one of the charter members of their "Legion of Boom" secondary, who represented Seattle in the 2012 Pro Bowl. Browner has been suspended indefinitely, reportedly for a second marijuana positive test, complicated by the fact that he missed several tests while out of the league following his initial positive in Denver in 2005. Browner is a pending free agent considered unlikely to return to the team; sub Byron Maxwell has played well.

"I speak to Brandon every week," Sherman said Wednesday. "That's one of my best friends ... (He's) working out and staying in shape and doing everything he needs to do to get his body ready for next season."

Sherman said he doesn't care if eyebrows across the league are raised.

"We don't worry about reputations and things like that. We worry about football, and we have a tremendous football team that goes out there and executes, week-in and week-out," he said. "At the end of the day this is the NFL and that's all that matters."

Carroll, ever glib and upbeat, seemed to want to get across that he has taken the situation seriously.

"We've had team meetings, we've had speakers, we've had seminars, we've had one-on-ones, we've done everything that we think we can do," he said, "but honestly, not until this offseason did I think that our young team really joined together."

Carroll said when linebacker Bruce Irvin was suspended four games for PED use, "the way Bruce addressed it and handled it with us and our football team, it set us in a new mode, in a new mentality. I found that we were a very young team, with young minds, and guys that needed to formulate the plan, how it all fits together ... We really came together with a really simple thought, that we're 'Seahawks 24/7.' We realized ... that we had a tremendous commitment to what we were doing on the field, and that we needed to embrace that we needed that commitment to extend off the field as well, in all areas.

"Like any team comes together on different issues, this was an issue, and I think Bruce was a great starter to the new mentality that we've developed, about taking care of business, about always representing, about having a conscience that never leaves us, whether we're on the field, off the field, in-season, or out-of-season."

Safety Kam Chancellor, who is credited with having spoken up in a team meeting about the need to stop making drug-test headlines, said Wednesday: "The team is learning. We learn to put things in the past and move on. Nobody's perfect; everyone makes mistakes ... I think we're doing things the right way moving forward."

Of course, there are lots of young players and young teams in the NFL who don't have the Seahawks' rap sheet. Nobody interviewed Wednesday could say why the Seahawks would need to "learn" something most NFL players and teams apparently already knew, that drug-testing is serious.

"That's what happens when you're in the spotlight and winning," said Thurmond, who returned for the regular-season finale after serving four games for a positive marijuana test. "Every team has their fair share of stuff. At the end of the day, mistakes happen. You have to live with those mistakes. The most important thing is that you learn from them.

"I think it's just things that happened ... Coach Carroll's done a great job. I was part of his first draft class (in 2010). I've seen the program do a complete 360. It's just a great group of guys on and off the field."

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