RENTON No, Earl Thomas doesn’t do wishy-washy.
“I will be ready for the first game,” the three-time Pro Bowl safety said directly on Tuesday, following his full-go practice to begin Seahawks minicamp -- six months and nine days after he broke the tibia in his left leg.
Saying he was 80 percent healthy, Thomas joined fellow safety Kam Chancellor (April surgery on both ankles) as the starting safeties for the 90-minute practice in helmets and no pads at team headquarters.
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On the first play of team scrimmaging, Thomas sprinted across the field to the sideline to join right cornerback Neiko Thorpe in coverage on a catch by wide receiver Paul Richardson. On play two, Thomas ran 40 yards across and down the hash marks to catch up to Alex Collins at the end of the running back’s catch and run.
“I’ve still got my explosion,” Thomas said. “My mental game is sharp. I’m just going to take care of everything.
“I didn’t have any target. My goal was just to work my butt off and just to see. Let the chips fall where they may. You know, I’m not a doctor. Most of the time, you feel like the doctor just gives you something (of an estimate). I’m not going to take that. I’m going to push the limits and see where I fall at the end of it.”
Coach Pete Carroll estimated earlier this spring his key to the back half of Seattle’s thumping defense and ability to defend the pass “may” be back for the start of training camp.
That return is a “definitely” now.
“He said he’s at 80 percent. Isn’t that awesome?” Carroll said after watching Thomas fly around the field Tuesday.
“He thinks he’s at 80 percent, and he looks good. ... It’s really been a cool thing to see, because I know he’s been wanting to find out himself.
“He’s in good shape, and he’s making great progress towards camp. ... He’s testing himself to see what he can do. And it’s all good.”
Thomas read routes early during plays in Tuesday’s no-contact scrimmaging. He broke hard and decisively on the ball. One time he hopped up and down in frustration that he couldn’t blast tight end Steve Donatell, after his teammate’s catch on a seam route, as he would have in a game.
Thomas showed no limp, no hesitation. He said he’s making a point this time to return decisively, play and practice like he always has -- which is notoriously and fiendishly. He compared now to when he returned for the start of the 2015 regular season from a shoulder injury, through which he played the end of the NFC championship game in January 2015 and all of Super Bowl 49 before needing surgery in the spring of ‘15. He says now he was too tentative and doubting in his first game that following season, a loss to an inferior Rams team in St. Louis.
“Early on, when we first got out here (for organized team activities two weeks ago), I wasn’t sure,” Thomas, 28, said of his healed left leg. “But I had to test it out, just to see.
“So far, so good.”
So very good for the Seahawks.
How important is Thomas’ return to health to Seattle’s return to playoffs and perhaps the Super Bowl?
This is the most basic measure from last season, when Thomas was missing from the defense for the first time since he joined the team and the NFL in 2010:
Seattle had 10 interceptions and went 8-2-1 in the 11 games in which Thomas played last season.
The Seahawks had one interception and went 3-4 in the seven games Thomas missed, including both playoff games.
Tuesday, it was as if he’d never broken the shin, his first major injury to one of his legs, “my foundation.”
It was as if he never contemplated retirement the night of the injury Dec. 4 during Seattle’s home win over Carolina, either.
“I think it was definitely the shock of the moment,” he said Tuesday, “especially because I felt I was having one of the best seasons in my career...and then right then...”
He snapped his gloved fingers.
“...it’s gone. You know, this is my foundation, my legs. And just for one of my legs to be broken, I never went through anything like that. Of course I had a shoulder, but it’s nothing like my speed.”
Always unique, Thomas said he watched one of the Seahawks’ last games without him -- perhaps the loss at Atlanta in the divisional playoffs in mid January when the Falcons shredded Seattle’s Thomas-less secondary, it wasn’t clear -- at a bowling alley. He threw a party there while watching him teammates play on without him.
Of course he did. That was about a month after he watched the Seahawks lose at Tampa Bay without him at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Portland.
How long did it take him to get over the broken leg and realize he would play again and not retire?
“I took a couple trips with the family,” he said of his winter. “Went to Jamaica. Just talking with them. And, you know, talking with myself.
“I had a vision, and it was definitely paying off for me last year. I just tried to maintain that vision in my head. And I try to unleash it when I get back out here.”
So what changed his mind about possibly retiring?
“I couldn’t tell you exactly at what point. It was a little bit of everything,” he said. “I was just feeling like it wasn’t time. I saw Eric Berry get that huge deal ($70 million, with a $20 million signing bonus, from Kansas City in February to make him the NFL’s richest safety). You know, there ain’t never enough of that.
“So, just a lot of things that made me come back.”
Asked what doctors told him for how long it would take him to return to full participation in practices, Thomas said without a smile: “They knew not to talk to me like that.”
Thomas said doctors told him the leg had a 50-percent chance to heal naturally, without surgery.
“I don’t want nothin’ in my leg,” he said in his native, East Texas drawl.
“I said, ‘I’m going to take that 50-percent chance.
“God is good. The healing is taking care of itself. I’m out there really grindin’. And it’s paying off.”