Kam Chancellor was at practice — in spirit, anyway, still not in real life.
Marshawn Lynch wore the holdout team leader’s blue, No. 31 jersey in practice Thursday, a show of support on day 42 of Chancellor’s holdout. Yet the actual, three-time Pro Bowl strong safety won’t play Sunday in the Seahawks’ opener at St. Louis.
But Earl Thomas sure will.
On Sunday, the All-Pro free safety will start for the Seahawks just 6 1/2 months after shoulder surgery. Initial estimates said he could be out up to eight months.
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“I’ve got to keep the streak alive, so ...” Thomas said four days before he will play his 91st consecutive game in the regular season and postseason since the Seahawks drafted him in the first round in 2010.
“It means a lot,” he said of his longevity streak. “I love this game.”
His streak actually dates through the two seasons he played in college before he left the University of Texas after his redshirt-sophomore season to become the 14th-overall pick. It dates through his days starring in football, basketball, baseball and track at West Orange-Stark High School in his native Orange, Texas. Goes all the way back to when Thomas might have, maybe, missed a game back in a peewee league.
“Yeah,” Thomas said, monotone and without expression, as usual. “That’s about right.”
This start Sunday against the Rams was in doubt back on Feb. 24 when Thomas had surgery to repair his left shoulder. The joint had been separated and its labrum torn in January’s NFC Championship Game against the Packers, yet he played through the pain in the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.
It was still in doubt at the start of training camp, when Thomas told ESPN he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to make it back in time for the opener. Then Seattle put him on its physically-unable-to-perform list July 31 to begin training camp.
After a couple of weeks of missing practices for the first time, the Seahawks activated him, though Thomas wore the red, no-contact jersey throughout training camp. He kept practicing but not hitting or playing in any of the four exhibition games.
Seeing Thomas pacing the sidelines with a glare as he watched fill-in Steven Terrell and others play for him was like watching a caged lion consistently be denied meals.
The dinner bell will finally ring for one of the Seahawks’ mainstays on Sunday.
“It feels good. My mindset is I’m just grateful of my sacrifice, and just be there,” he said. “Try to own my position, own my role — and just see what happens.”
Owning his role means him zooming decisively from the back of what’s been the league’s top-ranked defense the last two seasons, then delivering reckless hits that feel a lot worse than a 5-foot-10, 202-pound man should be able to provide.
But when Thomas starts flying around Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on Sunday and delivering his first hits since the surgery while wearing a left shoulder brace he’s been fighting team trainers to shed, will he have any trepidation?
“I don’t know what trepidation means,” Thomas said.
No, fear is not in his vocabulary.
But Chancellor is. And this will be only the third game in their 181 combined games in 10 combined seasons with the Seahawks that Thomas and Chancellor won’t play together as the safety pair.
“It’s very different,” Thomas said. “But it’s his choice, his decision, his life. We’ll see how that plays out.”
Thomas said playing with 2014 rookie practice-squad player Dion Bailey at strong safety Sunday instead of Chancellor has changed his preparation. Thomas has become more of a bookworm.
“We never really change up what we do on defense. If we change anything, in my mind, it made me a little bit sharper,” Thomas said. “I depended on Kam to say ‘you needed to get on this side, or that side.’
“It put me in my playbook a little bit more. I rely on instinct, and Kam was more the mental guy.”
New defensive coordinator Kris Richard, Thomas’ position coach the safety’s first five seasons in the league, thinks Thomas may be even sharper now than in the last Super Bowl.
“That’s been the biggest part of Earl’s development over his years, the development of his mental game,” Richard said. “The time that he’s had away early in camp, during the preseason games, him just standing and watching from afar has really helped develop the mental side of his game. He saw the game from a different angle.
“The opportunity for him to sit on the sideline, take a look, take a step back, take a deep breath and see how everything developed, I think it helped him a lot.”
By the looks of things, Thomas is going to stay in his playbook a lot more.
TYLER LOCKETT CONTINUES TO IMPRESS
Rookie Tyler Lockett ran back a kickoff 103 yards in his first exhibition game last month, then a punt 67 yards to paydirt in his third one. In his fourth game, he ran past every Oakland Raiders defender for a 63-yard touchdown catch and run down the sideline.
Seahawks assistant Brian Schneider has been coaching special teams since 1994, and this is his sixth year in that capacity with Seattle. Count him as another that’s supremely impressed with the ultra-polished, third-round draft choice from Kansas State.
“He’s like a 10-year pro and he’s in his rookie year, the way he prepares,” Schneider said following Thursday’s practice.
“That’s the most complete (rookie) I’ve ever seen.”
Lockett’s presence Sunday alone makes Seattle so much better on special teams than they were last October when the Rams’ tricks in the kicking game essentially beat the Seahawks in St. Louis.
The Seahawks declared veteran LB and special-teams player Mike Morgan out for Sunday with a hamstring injury. … Third TE Cooper Helfet was back to full practice participation after being limited Wednesday by a sore knee. … Rams rookie RB Todd Gurley, the 10th overall draft choice who is coming off reconstructive knee surgery while he was at the University of Georgia, was limited in practice for St. Louis on Thursday. The Rams haven’t officially ruled out for Sunday the man some have reported Seattle had as its top-rated running back in May’s draft, but coach Jeff Fisher began this week saying Gurley will not play against the Seahawks.
SUNDAY: Regular-season opener, Seattle at St. Louis, 10 a.m., Ch. 13, 710-AM, 97.3-FM