RENTON – Friday practices are generally early, giving Seahawks players a chance to get home in the afternoon.
On many of those days, as others disperse, free safety Earl Thomas heads back upstairs at the team headquarters for more hours of film study with defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
It may seem like a small thing but it’s a glimpse into what makes Thomas special.
Many players in the NFL say they aspire to greatness. Far fewer are willing to put in the work it takes to earn it.
Earl Thomas is one of those. And this week it was recognized when Thomas was voted the Seahawks’ first Pro Bowl starter since 2008.
“We always know what we’re going to get out of Earl,” defensive end Red Bryant said. “He’s the hardest worker. He studies hard. He’s all about his teammates and he’s all about business.”
Thomas is a humble and soft-spoken Texan off the field. At 5-10, 202 pounds, he’s hardly the most physically imposing NFL player.
And it’s a little hard to remember that he was 20 when he was drafted, and just turned 22 in October.
“I didn’t think this would come as quickly in my career,” he said Wednesday. “I’m 22 years old, I’m starting in the Pro Bowl. It’s crazy, man; it’s a blessing.”
Thomas showed impressive skills as a rookie, pulling in five interceptions. But he also won admiration in the locker room with the way he approached his job. Although he was a first-round draft pick, he was notably respectful of his elders, and eager to absorb the lessons of their experience.
But with the secondary in the process of being rebuilt this season, Thomas’ role needed to change.
It was Bryant who planted this in Thomas’ mind before the start of this season, and it caused Thomas to re-evaluate his position as a team leader.
“He said, ‘You’re a special player, you have the opportunity to make this whole defense better’, ” Thomas recalled Bryant telling him. “When a guy sat there and told me that, I thought, OK … I’ve got guys counting on me, so I took that attitude and went with it.”
Attitude was only a part of it, though. At times as a rookie, Thomas would make a big play with his athleticism and then give up a big play because he got fooled by an opponent.
“He understands the game better this year,” said strong safety Kam Chancellor, one of Thomas’ close friends and a Pro Bowl alternate himself. “Last year it was all his physical ability and speed. He didn’t really know all the calls but he just was so fast he made up for it. But this year, I think (the game) slowed down for him; he knew his gaps and he knew a lot of plays that were coming before they even ran them.”
As he refined his game and his responsibilities expanded, his opportunities for interceptions declined. Because Pro Bowl voting sometimes is driven by statistics, the fact that he was voted in with just two interceptions illustrates how much his overall play is respected.
“I think it’s a great reward for the hard work Earl puts in,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Earl is a great worker and an intense competitor. He wants to be the best in every way and he works at it.”
Carroll pointed to a statistic that he thinks reflects Thomas’ impact. Last season, the Seahawks were 31st in plays surrendered of more than 20 yards. This season, they’re tied for second.
“That has a tremendous amount to do with how he plays, and the plays that he’s been able to stop,” Carroll said. “So, he’s grown. He always had the intensity and toughness and great speed, but now … he’s learned the game and he’s studied it so much more effectively. He’s turned into a real force back there.”
A reliable force, at that. He has started all 31 games since he joined the team, impressive durability for a 200-pounder who plays as physically as he does.
Thomas said he heard of the Pro Bowl honor in a call from Carroll on Tuesday. He was a passenger in a car driven by his girlfriend. He played it cool, but “my girlfriend was screaming.”
“I tried to tell her, keep your eyes on the road,” Thomas said.
As Bryant said, the man is all about business, and keeping his focus on the goals ahead.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org