Welcome back sooner than later, Earl Thomas and Tyler Lockett.
Goodbye, Steven Hauschka.
Those were the loudest messages Seahawks coach Pete Carroll gave Thursday while speaking on the second day of the NFL’s annual scouting combine.
The day brought the most positive signs in the three months since Thomas broke his leg that the three-time All-Pro safety will be back playing when the 2017 season begins.
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Carroll said all indications are Thomas will recover from a broken tibia he got Dec. 4 against Carolina in time for next season’s opener in September. Previously, Carroll had not given an estimate for Thomas’ return.
“He’s feeling very competitive about it, and he’s going for it,” Carroll said inside the Indiana Convention Center.
Thomas had mused on social media immediately after his injury about possibly retiring. The Seahawks interpreted that as an emotional reaction from a player who just sustained the first major injury of his football life.
“I’m coming back to prove I’m the best,” Thomas told ESPN’s Ed Werder on Thursday. “I’m coming back to help my team win a championship.”
Carroll said the injury shook his superstar.
“Yeah, it was a big shock, you know. It was a big shock to him. He’d never been injured before, like that,” Carroll said. “His mentality is strong and he’s looking forward to getting right.”
The coach had a similar upbeat forecast for Lockett. The speedy wide receiver and Pro Bowl kick returner broke his tibia and fibula against Arizona on Christmas Eve.
“Both of those guys have a really good chance to be there as we kick off the season,” Carroll said.
The coach echoed general manager John Schneider from the day before in saying it may be deeper into the 2017 season before starting cornerback DeShawn Shead returns to playing. Shead tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Jan. 14 in Seattle’s playoff loss at Atlanta, and had surgery later that month.
Carroll called the former decathlete at Portland State “an extraordinary healer and competitor,” but added “it wouldn’t be unlikely that he might go into the season before he is ready to go.”
Shead’s injury has put a new emphasis for the Seahawks on finding a cornerback here at the combine for April’s draft, and perhaps in free agency next week.
The Seahawks signed veteran cornerback Perrish Cox last month as insurance for Shead. Cox, 30, got a non-guaranteed contract worth a bargain $775,000 in base pay with an $80,000 bonus if he makes the roster. That’s no sure thing, depending on whom Seattle may draft in what is considered a strong class of college cornerbacks, or sign in free agency.
“He’s going to fit right in the competition,” Carroll said of Cox, who started 22 games the last two seasons for Tennessee before the Titans released him in November. “We know a lot about him. He’s been with us (he played two games for Seattle in 2013). We’ve played against him. He’s always been a playmaker and a versatile player, and has a real nice style.
“We will add him in the competition and see where it goes.”
The coach was also asked what the recent signing of free-agent kicker Blair Walsh means for Hauschka. Hauschka, 31, has been the Seahawks’ kicker since 2011. His contract has expired and he is due to become an unrestricted free agent next Thursday when the market opens.
“Steven’s a free agent,” Carroll said. “He can go anywhere he wants to go.”
Carroll also mentioned, for the second time since the season ended at Atlanta in the divisional round of the playoffs, that “we are a kick away here and there from playing at home in the playoffs (last season).
“And that would have made a big difference,” Carroll said of securing the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Seahawks lost that seed, in part, because Hauschka missed a field goal in overtime at Arizona in October, and a field goal plus an extra point late that would have given Seattle the lead against the Cardinals at home on Christmas Eve.
Walsh, a former All-Pro with Minnesota, is four years younger. His contract for $800,000 in base pay for 2017 will cost Seattle nearly $2 million less than Hauschka cost the team in 2016.
Minnesota drafted Walsh before he became a Pro Bowl kicker. The Vikings released Walsh in November, after he kept missing extra points and field goals last season. Walsh also shanked a 23-yard field goal in January 2016 that would have beaten the Seahawks in the wild-card playoffs.
Carroll called Walsh a “tremendous talent.”
“I can’t make a more vivid illustration of trying to improve the roster by bringing in competition of a high level,” Carroll said. “What a great opportunity to get a talented guy. The guy’s kicked as well as anyone in football, in college and in the pros, when he’s had his chances. And he’s seen the other side of it, too, he knows how to bounce back. And so he’s a tremendous talent.
“So he adds in and we see what happens. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the rest of it.”
Other than Hauschka’s time as the Seahawks’ kicker apparently being over, that is.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle