Earl Thomas, what did you think when your Seahawks drafted four defensive backs and signed another former NFL starting one into your position group this spring?
“It’s going to be hard for them to start,” Thomas said. “That’s what I was thinking.”
No smiling. No yielding.
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The three-time All-Pro is renowned for his intensity and dedication. Tuesday, his first day in shoulder pads since he broke his tibia in December, was absolutely not the day Thomas was going to concede anything to the younger, new arrivals.
Almost no day is.
What Thomas did concede following the Seahawks’ third day of training camp was that he’s not fully turning himself loose on the field. He’s just short of eight full months removed from the first major injury to one of his legs.
“I’m just easing into things right now,” Thomas said. “Today was the first day in pads; I haven’t been in pads in a very long time. It kind of felt different in a way, because we’ve been playing seven on seven (in helmets and shorts) basically the whole (time since last season).
“But I’m easing into it.”
Whoa! Earl Thomas “easing into”... anything?
Thomas being back is the most important development of the summer so far for the Seahawks. Him being in the middle of the defense is essential to Seattle’s success. Last season’s pratfalls on defense in the first games without Thomas in his seven-year career proved that.
At age 28, he knows he doesn’t need to fly around, throwing his body across the field. Not in August. So what if, on occasion, a receiver slips past him in a team scrimmage? That has happened a time or two during the first practices of camp.
“I’m getting a lot of great work one on one,” he said. “The receivers kind of got the best of me today. But I’ll be back to fight (Thursday, following a players’ day off Wednesday).”
The Seahawks entered their Dec. 4, 2016, home game against Carolina leading the NFL in fewest points allowed, — 17 per game. They had not allowed more than 25 points in any game and had held opponents to one or no touchdowns four times. They were seventh in total defense (335.6 yards allowed per game) and 10th against the pass (235.5).
Then Thomas collided with teammate Kam Chancellor. They were trying to intercept a pass near the goal line.
In the four games without Thomas, the Seahawks allowed their only 30-point games of the regular season: 38 points in a blowout loss at Green Bay and 34 points in the home defeat to Arizona on Christmas Eve. They allowed the 2-14 San Francisco 49ers to score 23 points. They lost in the divisional round of the playoffs in Atlanta because they gave up 36 points in the Georgia Dome.
The fact Thomas is with the first team, fully participating as he did in minicamp in June, is perhaps more than everyone but him expected the night he crumpled to the CenturyLink Field turf.
That night on Twitter, Thomas posted his thoughts of how great the game has been to him — and of possible retirement.
“I think I used Twitter as a coping mechanism, to just shoot my thoughts out there,” Thomas said Tuesday.
I asked him in June, upon his return to the field for offseason practices, what changed his mind away from retirement.
“I saw Eric Berry get that huge deal,” Thomas said of the $70 million contract with $40 million guaranteed the Kansas City Chiefs gave their star safety this offseason. “There ain’t never enough of that.”
This offseason, Thomas watched his team sign former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting safety Bradley McDougald. McDougald has looked sharp early in camp, instinctive and decisive on the ball as the second-team free safety backing up Thomas.
The Seahawks drafted Central Florida cornerback Shaquill Griffin and Michigan strong safety Delano Hill in the third round, Colorado safety Tedric Thompson in the fourth round and Cincinnati defensive back Mike Tyson (who’s been playing cornerback in training camp) in the sixth round.
Then Tuesday, Thomas saw Chancellor get his: $25 million in guarantees on a long-awaited, three-year extension.
Thomas, Chancellor and three-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman are all signed through 2018. They began their NFL careers with the Seahawks together for the first time in 2011.
That continuity is a unique benefit to the Seahawks. Thomas noted it rarely happens in this league of salary caps and routine, free-agent departures.
“The number one way is communication,” coach Pete Carroll said of Seattle’s benefits to having its “Legion of Boom” still together. “These guys have been through so much. Their ability to see things eye to eye and assess things and make decisions and make adjustments and changes and know what is going on and a lot of time they don’t even have to talk. They look, they know, they can tell. They have been there so much that it’s a great asset for us.”
Chancellor’s extension Tuesday affirmed to Thomas he may have made the right decision in his fiendish rehabilitation to get back on the field for the start of this training camp. That, and he may be the next of the core guys to get an extension from the Seahawks. Thomas’ contract was extended in April 2014, a year after Chancellor re-upped with Seattle for the first time, and expires after 2018.
“I’m just excited to be back out there,” Thomas said. “I’m not going to overdo it.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle