Tharold Simon recognized his questioner. He recognized the subject: his latest — and last — chance to win a Seahawks job.
He also recognized the hallway just inside the back field door of team headquarters in which he was about to talk. And he shuddered.
A year ago this month, the star-crossed cornerback was in the same hallway talking about returning from offseason shoulder surgery. A week later, just before the 2015 opener at St. Louis, Simon got yet another toe injury. He’s had those flare up since he was in middle school.
“Naw, I’m not talking in this hallway!” Simon said Thursday following Seattle’s latest training-camp practice.
“Last time I talked to you in this hallway, I got hurt again. Let’s go outside.”
Change of scenery? Change of fortune? Something has to change for Simon to finally stick as a Seahawk.
“I feel pretty good — wonderful, to be honest,” Simon said. “Blessed that I’m healthy and ready to roll.
“This is the first time that I’ve felt that confidence, that ‘Let’s GO!’
“I feel like I can stop anybody that’s in front of me.”
This is the fourth and final year of the contract the 25-year-old signed as Seattle’s fifth-round draft choice in 2013. At 6 feet 3 and 202 pounds, he has the height, length and aggressiveness on the ball that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Kris Richard covet in their cover guys.
Can Simon finally fulfill his team’s expectations? Can he earn not only a job this season, but then perhaps a second, more lucrative contract than his rookie deal paying him $675,000 this year?
“He is off to a great start. This is the best he has been,” Carroll said. “He has had problems with his feet for years, and he has never been able to get it right and it has kind of caused something else to happen.
“He feels great. He is in great shape. Technique-wise, he is having a terrific camp and he continues to keep winning, and so it just makes us stronger. It makes the competition at that spot for playing time real, so he’s doing a great job.”
But through 11 practices of training camp, it’s been DeShawn Shead as the starting right cornerback consistently opposite Richard Sherman. Simon has been relegated to No. 2 left cornerback, Sherman’s backup.
The coaches and teammates trust Shead. He’s excelled in every role thrust upon him in his first four Seahawks seasons: free safety, starting strong safety, starting cornerback and as a selfless special-teams ace. He’s been impressively banging receivers such as Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin at the line of scrimmage and running with the fastest Seahawks across the middle, as he did with Paul Richardson for tight coverage in Thursday’s scrimmaging.
The Seahawks don’t know yet if they can trust Simon. And if they can’t soon, they never will.
Simon’s task this month is as simple as it’s been elusive: stay on the field. His coaches and teammates are trying to determine in four preseason games, including Saturday’s first one at Kansas City, if they can trust him to first merely be available from game to game. Then, if he can stay on the field, to keep a level head there.
He sounds as if he knows the stakes.
“These are serious games for me,” Simon said.
Multiple foot injuries in 2013 resulted in his rookie season ending early on injured reserve. He got a chance to play in 2014 — but he committed bonehead penalties at awful times.
In October of that season at St. Louis, Simon banged into Rams receiver Brian Quick before the ball arrived on a third-and-4. The 16-yard penalty extended St. Louis’ drive.
A few plays later, Simon grabbed an opponent’s face mask while teammate K.J. Wright was completing a tackle for a loss that would have forced the Rams into third-and-25. Simon’s penalty gave St. Louis a first down at the Seattle 12 instead. The Rams scored their second touchdown to take a 14-3 lead in their eventual 28-26, upset victory.
For all the errors the Seahawks made that day, they could have won had Simon not been so grabby and had they held St. Louis to a field goal on that drive.
In the playoffs of January 2015, Carolina’s Cam Newton targeted Simon for two touchdown passes, but Seattle overcame those to win. Simon played that game with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Of course he did.
Three weeks later, nickel back Jeremy Lane broke his arm and shredded his knee early in Super Bowl 49. Then-starting cornerback Byron Maxwell went inside to nickel, and an ailing Simon took Maxwell’s right cornerback spot. That was because Seattle decisively had left Marcus Burley, the backup nickel who had played there at the start of the 2014 season, on the inactive list before the game.
Tom Brady and New England targeted Simon immediately upon his entrance. Brady threw two touchdown passes against Simon as the Patriots rallied from two scores down in the fourth quarter to win the NFL title.
Last summer, in that same hallway of team headquarters, Simon talked about being past his shoulder surgery that caused him to miss the first two preseason games of 2015. He talked of “trying to compete for a starting job.” Then, that balky, bony bump on his big toe resurfaced.
What’s up with all his foot injuries, anyway?
“I had two bunion surgeries, one in the seventh grade and one in the eighth grade,” he said. “And it was good all the way up to my junior year in college. That’s when the problems started happening some more.”
He eventually went on injured reserve for the second time in his three NFL seasons last October. Another year lost.
He does maintenance exercises and therapy for his feet now, and at times they get sore. But there are no more years left for him to waste in Seattle. That’s why he posted on social media before training camp started two weeks ago: “It’s my time.”
“I mean, I’ve been feeling that way since I stepped on the scene. I just haven’t had the opportunity,” Simon said.
“My confidence is out of this world right now. I’m just ready to play some ball. That’s it.
“It’s been a long time coming.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
Seahawks camp at a glance
WHAT WAS IT: Summer returned for the 11th practice of training camp, which was in helmets and no pads. Warm sun instead of fog was a change. What didn’t change: Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett again meeting with kids on the field after practice and leading relay races with them. “No, you have to hop!” Bennett, the father of three daughters, said at one point to the young grade-schoolers. “Like this. Like a horse.”
WHO SHINED: Rookie second-round pick Jarran Reed was back as the starting defensive tackle one day after he left the field because his lower leg got stepped on by a blocker. Reed is pushing hard to be the opening-game starter next to Ahtyba Rubin, departed Brandon Mebane’s old spot. … Trevone Boykin had what line coach Tom Cable said was the undrafted rookie quarterback’s best day of camp for communicating with his offensive line. During a red-zone drill, the former minimal-read trigger man of a spread offense at TCU noticed a blitz coming. He changed the linemen’s protection call with an audible. Then he zipped a quick pass outside for a completion to recently signed tight end Clayton Echard. That’s exactly how Boykin needs to do it in the four upcoming preseason games to win the No. 2 quarterback job. … Offensive tackle Bradley Sowell continued his good week after a poor first week of camp. He repelled Bennett at the start of the daily pass-rush drill, something few Seahawks have done in camp. Bennett got even a few minutes later with one of his lightning-quick hand moves past Sowell. During team scrimmaging, Sowell was the starting left tackle and Garry Gilliam, who’s been the left tackle, moved back to the right tackle he was as a starter all last season. … This has been converted defensive end Cassius Marsh’s week to be the starting strong side linebacker. Last week, it was Mike Morgan. Eric Pinkins and Kevin Pierre-Louis are also supposedly in the competition, but Marsh and Morgan have been more visible with the first team. … Doug Baldwin returned to full participation after a week out with an Achilles pain. The No. 1 wide receiver ended practice with a tumbling touchdown catch on a pass from Russell Wilson out of the slot position. He then got mobbed by every single Seahawks offensive player. … Don’t be surprised if you see No. 92 for Seattle in early Saturday night on the defensive line in the preseason opener at Kansas City. Undrafted rookie Brandin Bryant from Florida Atlantic got more first-team reps. … Rookie running back Alex Collins was full go after missing a couple days with a sore ankle. … Baldwin said No. 3 QB Jake Heaps has been, “on paper,” the most accurate passer in camp. Yes, that includes Wilson, who led the NFL in passer rating last season. … Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga came off the non-football-injury list to make his camp debut. … Rookie defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson was back practicing after missing two days. … Seattle waived defensive end Montese Overton and signed free-agent defensive end Tylor Harris.
WHO SAT: Sowell and Gilliam were the tackles because starting right tackle J’Marcus Webb sat out. On Wednesday, Webb had an ice pack on his right knee. Cable said Thursday the team wasn’t yet sure the exact nature of Webb’s injury. … Four-year veteran Jordan Hill (groin) remained out. He’s opened the door that Reed has bulled through onto the first team. … C.J. Prosise, Zac Brooks and Kasen Williams remained out with hamstring issues. … Strong safety Kam Chancellor rested for the third time in four days. … Running back Thomas Rawls rested after two straight workout days. He came off the physically unable to perform list Tuesday.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I think our plan is to get him in the game and go for it. To his credit, he’s played enough, so there’s some things he can adapt. But there’s some things he’s maybe not totally comfortable with, so we’ll stay away from that.” — Cable saying 10-year veteran guard Jahri Evans will play Saturday at Kansas City, seven days after he signed as a free agent. Evans had been without a team since New Orleans let him go this spring.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle