Earl Thomas is just different.
Look below at his eyes.
They look like they are about to bore into your soul. And you aren't even in pads.
Heck, this was only Wednesday, four days still before he and his Seahawks play the NFC championship game against Green Bay.
Imagine what he looks like to opponents on game days. OK, you'd rather not.
Thomas is unique among the thousands of athletes, pro and college, I've interviewed in my 17-year career. Many say they are intense. Many play like they are intense. But Seattle's All-Pro free safety sounds, looks, acts and just plain is intense, in everything he does. Either that, or he's been acting when I've seen or talked to him just about every day since August.
When I covered the Raiders a little more than a decade ago, they had a defensive tackle named Ted Washington. You might remember him. A former New England Patriot, 6 feet 5, listed at 365 pounds but closer to four bills. He sat at a corner locker in the Raiders' headquarters in Alameda. He just glared at reporters like a guard dog. The times I approached him, and they weren't many, he flashed looks that basically said: "You have 10 seconds -- then get the hell out."
That was a different kind of intense. More like intimidating, for the sport of it. By all accounts Washington was a cooperative, if not likable, teammate in Oakland. He even did an endearing United Way volunteering commercial for the NFL once, when he played for the Chicago Bears.
Thomas is a different intense. A cerebral kind. Physically, he isn't tremendously imposing: 5-10, 202 pounds.
But he eats, drinks, sleeps football -- specifically excelling in it. Watch on the video below during a couple of his pauses to answer questions. They are uncomfortable pauses, and not just because no one is saying anything. Yesterday I really did find myself sitting there wondering, truly contemplating, whether Thomas is about to leap off the auditorium stage and pile drive the person who just asked him something.
He nailed it yesterday when at one point during his pre-title-game press conference he said: "I'm unique in my own way. I'm not like everybody else."
It's an edge that makes him a two-time All-Pro, one of the best safeties of the last decade. The leader of the best defense in the NFL, one that is a win away from bolstering its growing a legacy as of the best units of the last 40 years.
And he's only in his fifth season.
--The Seahawks announced Katharine McPhee will sing the National Anthem before Sunday's game and Alice in Chains will be rockin' it at halftime inside CenturyLink Field.
--The team practices beginning at noon, with Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson talking afterward.
--Here's all that Thomas said yesterday:
FS EARL THOMAS
January 15, 2015
- Bobby Wagner was just saying that regardless of what teams come in and expect to do to you guys that you're going to be ready for it. Do you agree with that?
EARL THOMAS: I definitely agree with that. We just have a lot of talent, and Bobby understands how good we are as a defense. When a guy says that, that just shows you how strong we really believe in ourselves and what we really got going on in our defensive room with Dan Quinn. We love each other. We're just ‑‑ we just feel strong inside. Everybody is connected, and he has every right in the world to feel that way because I feel the exact same way.
- A lot of you guys have been together three, four years. How much has the communication in the defense room kind of come together quickly, whether it's a signal or just a word?
EARL THOMAS: I think a lot goes into just the experience that we have. We see the same thing over and over because we don't change who we are as a defense, so that actually makes it easy on us as far as preparation‑wise because they can only attack us like this, and then you add the D‑line that we have, then you add the second level that we have, then the secondary, it's hard. We make it hard for a lot of teams.
- You talked a lot over the years, over the season, about the love, how much you love each other. You don't hear that much from football players. How does that fit in?
EARL THOMAS: I think ‑‑ when you're talking about something like that, I'm unique in my own way. I'm not like everybody else. Just because I'm a football player I'm not going to be labeled in that type of whatever y'all think of a football player. I just think you just take outside‑the‑box way of thinking. I think everybody thinks the same, but I think we have a lot of guys that understand who they are and really believe, strong‑minded guys. Strong‑minded guys, man.
- What does Kam Chancellor's physicality do for this defense? People talk about him setting the tone. When he's hitting guys like he was last week, what does that do?
EARL THOMAS: Yeah, he definitely sets the tone. He sets the tone. It's something that you can feel. It's something that you can feel. You see he gets up and starts pounding his hands, all that stuff is contagious, and that's when we're at our best, when everybody is doing their own thing and they're bringing it to the group.
- Did you know Kam at all before you guys came in together that year?
EARL THOMAS: Not at all. I was really just getting familiar with the safety position, and in general just to be watching other players around college football playing safety, my position, but no. But the first time I did meet him we was in a hotel watching "Family Guy," and that was kind of awkward because all I did was watch SportsCenter back then.
I think it's crazy how when you come together and you never dream of right now. We just talk about how good we want to be, but when you actually put the action in and you actually see it come to life, that's special.
- Where was that, that you guys were watching "Family Guy"?
EARL THOMAS: In a hotel.
EARL THOMAS: Here. I'm sorry I don't explain stuff well. They actually put rookies together, so Coach Carroll is a mastermind in a lot of ways. We didn't see it, but he saw it.
- Did you ask him to change the channel?
EARL THOMAS: No, I didn't. I didn't. I just asked him, bro, you watch "Family Guy," like that, and that was it.
- Do you look at the specimen that he is, and you go, this guy plays DB?
EARL THOMAS: Yeah, definitely. He's versatile, man. He can play a linebacker position, but he really does. He's an extra linebacker in there for us. His hips, you know, he works at everything. If you work at something hard enough and you add stuff that you can ‑‑ your body can do from other people's games, that's why we're all so good in that secondary, because we challenge each other in every way possible. The game within the game, footwork, just competition, period.
- Your guys' rookie year you guys were playing alongside Lawyer Milloy and Kam was kind of learning. What did having that veteran presence do for you?
EARL THOMAS: To be honest with you, we respect Lawyer and everything that he brought to the team, but your rookie year, it's not too much to learn. I'm just out there running, and I know Lawyer was trying to protect his position in this spot, but for the most part, me and Kam had a long road to get where we're at right now.
- How does the Packers' offense look different on tape from the guys you faced in week one?
EARL THOMAS: I think we look different, that's the biggest difference. We look so different. I can just tell, an off‑season guy, I'm just looking at myself, that's not me. After we do what we've got to do this year, it's going to let me know what I need to do this off‑season.
- What do you bring to the defense?
EARL THOMAS: Everything, in my eyes. I'm biased, but I think I bring everything to the defense.
- You're in the middle of it now, Earl, but have you thought about, or do you guys sense how close you are to something historical that teams just don't do back‑to‑back years?
EARL THOMAS: I don't know. I really can't tell you. I haven't really thought of it in that way yet. I'm just really having fun, you know, trying to stay focused. This time of the year, this whole football season, I steal my mind away from everything else. I just try to focus on what I've got to do.
- You probably watched a ton of film on them. What's one thing you really respect about Aaron Rodgers when you think about him as a player?
EARL THOMAS: I just respect him as a football player in general. You can tell that he knows the game. He has a lot of confidence back there. You don't really see a lot of quarterbacks of his skin color with soul like that, and I like it.
- How do you think he'll do with the calf injury?
EARL THOMAS: Not sure. I think he's going to find a way to protect himself, but we've really got to know that, too. Obviously I think with him, you have to blast on the deep balls. I'm not buying into this leg issue. I'm not buying into it. I saw him scramble close to the goal line on the Cowboys, so he's not fooling me with that.
- Rodgers, he scrambled a little bit, but not like he usually ‑‑
EARL THOMAS: I'm not falling into that. I'm on my own road regardless. I'm on my road regardless.
- Do you tell your guys up front ‑‑
EARL THOMAS: We know that we have great coaches, we have great leaders. There's a reason why we're back where we're at.
- What was Bobby's impact when he came back from the injury? How good is he now compared to maybe his first two years, or is he still the same player, just getting recognized for it?
EARL THOMAS: No, everybody is growing, but with Wags, just killer instinct. Some guys just have that nasty streak to him, and I want another guy beside me with killer instincts. He has that, Sherm has that, Kam has that, and that fired‑up passion is contagious.
- Help me make sense of something because Russell Wilson said yesterday ‑‑
EARL THOMAS: Are you from Green Bay?
- No, I'm from New Jersey.
EARL THOMAS: Okay.
- Russell Wilson said yesterday this team is stronger than last year. I look back at that team last year, and it was a pretty strong team, but he says, coming out of what you did early in the season, having to find a way makes you stronger. Can you make sense of that? I'm sure you probably agree with that because a lot of guys do.
EARL THOMAS: I think the moral of the story is you're either getting better or you're getting worse. Every year you're going to see the game different, you're going to understand it better, and that's what I take from it. Even though we lost a lot of guys, but the core guys that we kept, that's the guys that's driving this thing. The drum of this team. As long as everything is connected within that core, we're going to be fine.
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