RENTON Earl Thomas is out.
So Bradley McDougald is in, poised to help the Seahawks fill that huge void Sunday when he makes his first Seattle start at free safety against the Washington Redskins.
In fact, McDougald’s already been helping them all this week. Helping right any perceived wrong with Jeremy Lane.
The Seahawks traded Lane to Houston on Monday for three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown. On Tuesday, Lane failed his physical examination with the Texans. He returned from Texas to the Seahawks on Wednesday.
"It’s definitely going to be different," said McDougald, the backup safety and man of the week in the Seahawks’ secondary. "I mean, I’m a good friend of Jeremy Lane’s. I’m more eager to have him back; I feel like I got one of my brothers back.
"Jeremy might be at a weird stage. But I feel like it’s our job as a team to put our arms back around him and bring him back in, because he is one of ours."
Lane is definitely at a weird stage.
He is questionable to play because of the bruised thigh he got after six plays at nickel defensive back last weekend against…the Texans. Before that the veteran who signed a four-year, $23 million extension with the Seahawks before the 2016 season missed two games with a strained groin.
That is why the Texans failed him on the medical exam. And it is why rookie third-round draft choice Shaquill Griffin and nickel back Justin Coleman have taken Lane’s jobs. The fact Lane’s $4 million salary for this season is guaranteed may be why he’s still with the Seahawks.
Now McDougald is taking Thomas’ job—as a fill-in against the passing of Washington’s Kirk Cousins. Thomas will rest his pulled hamstring on Sunday.
"I’ve been working to be a starter since I’ve been here," McDougald said, "so it’s nothing different."
But it’s different for the Seahawks. For only the third time in Thomas’ career, the defense knows its three-time All-Pro free safety won’t have its back.
The team on Friday declared Thomas out for the Washington game because of the pulled right hamstring he got chasing Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins on a Texans touchdown pass in Seattle’s win last weekend.
The only other times the Seahawks have been without Thomas since they drafted him in the first round in 2010 was last November against Tampa Bay when he had another hamstring strain--and watched the game at a Buffalo Wild Wings--and for the final four regular-season games and both playoff games last season after he broke his tibia last Dec. 4.
This is why Seattle signed McDougald this offseason: To be in a better spot without Thomas than they were last year with Steven Terrell filling in—and getting torched. The 2016 Seahawks allowed 30 or more points three times in their last six games last season without Thomas, including in the playoff loss at Atlanta.
"Very fortunately on our end of it, Bradley has been a starter in the league for years and he’s got the experience, the savvy," Carroll said. "He is a play-maker. He is really tough. He’s a good tackler. And we have spotted him all over the place to do things in coverage as well as the running game. He is just a really, really good football player to be able to set up.
"There is no question. We don’t have any hesitation in him playing or keeping the plan, principles intact or anything of that.
"He is excited about it. And I’m anxious to see him play."
The former Buccaneers starter has been getting increasing roles in recent games as a big, inside cover man against larger receivers, such as the New York Giants’ big, fast, rookie tight end Evan Engram last month. Engram had six catches for 60 yards but McDougald made sure tackles of him and others in the open field to prevent first downs. New York gained just 177 yards and lost 24-7 on Oct. 22.
"I love it," he said of his specialized role so far. "Anytime I can get on the field, in any way possible. I told them that when I came here, as well. It’s kind of all coming true, as well."
Asked how comfortable he was with McDougald playing for Thomas as the center back in Seattle’s defense, coordinator Kris Richard said: "Extremely confident.
"He’s been a starter in this league. He has starter ability. He’s a multi-talented guy who can do plenty of things out there on the field. So we have extreme confidence."
The 26-year-old McDougald played at the University of Kansas, after originally committing to his hometown Ohio State as a wide receiver. He moved to safety full time before his junior season at Kansas. He signed in 2013 as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs released him in November of that ’13 season and Tampa Bay signed him.
He played the next three-plus seasons for the Buccaneers, earning a starting job at safety by 2015. He intercepted Russell Wilson last season in Tampa Bay, when his Bucs smacked around the Seahawks’ offense in their 14-5 win.
How has he adjusted the first half of this season to not starting and mostly watching Thomas and Chancellor after two seasons as a main man in Tampa Bay?
"I’d like to kind of say it was humbling," McDougald said.
"But it’s kind of what I signed up for. I knew what I was getting myself into. I told them whatever they need me at (I’ll do), and it’s definitely been that situation: plug here, plug there, go in for this defense, cover this guy, run down on special teams, do that.
"I knew what I signed up for. And I’m just doing it to the best of my abilities."
Renowned for his coverage skills, McDougald has strong-safety size: 6 feet and 215 pounds. Richard considers him adept at backing up both Thomas and strong safety Kam Chancellor.
Since arriving this spring to the Seahawks, McDougald has learned what everyone who has ever met Thomas for more than 30 seconds learns.
"Oh, yeah, just his passion. Just the approach to the game," McDougald said. "We speak very well about what we see on film and different ways people want to attack us."
He signed a free-agent contract with Seattle in March for one year and $800,000. The Washington game will be a full showcase for what could be free agency again next spring—though the way Seahawks coaches rave about him Seattle may make a push to re-sign him before that.
The feeling sounds mutual. Asked why he chose Seattle as a free agent, McDougald said: "The organization. And (general manager) John Schneider, the things we talked about on how I’d be used."
Carroll calls McDougald "a guy that we were very fortunate to get in the offseason. John figured this one out early on and he’s been a great addition to our team.
"And now he is ready to go."
Something else was in Seattle’s favor to sign him this spring: McDougald’s other hot pursuer was Cleveland.
The Seahawks are tied for first place in the NFC West and are going for their fifth consecutive win on Sunday. They are seeking their sixth consecutive playoff appearance and third Super Bowl in five years.
The Browns are 1-23 the last two seasons, including 0-8 this season.
"I mean, it just wasn’t an appealing situation," McDougald said.
He didn’t elaborate. He didn’t need to.