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When it comes to first impressions, those left by Earl Thomas are impressive.
“The playmaking ability, the pass defense that he brings, the excitement that he’ll bring with his great speed and ability is something we needed desperately,” coach Pete Carroll said after the Seahawks were able to select the free safety from Texas with the 14th pick in last week’s NFL draft.
“It’s not like we didn’t like any other players,” general manager John Schneider said about the very real possibility that the Seahawks could have traded out of the 14th spot in the first round. “I’m saying Earl was our cut off in terms of whether or not we would move back – and we had an opportunity to move back. … Earl was identified as a player that, if he made it to us, we would not move back.”
“Earl is one of my all-time favorite players,” said area scout Matt Berry, who just happens to live in Austin. “The first thing that sticks out about Earl on the field is how hard he practices and just the tempo with which he carries himself.”
But the overwhelming impression from his introductory news conference on Saturday was how young Thomas is. He looked like a boy among men as he sat in the auditorium at Virginia Mason Athletic Center – next to fellow first-round draft choice Russell Okung, a XXL-sized tackle from Oklahoma State; and between Carroll and Schneider.
Thomas looked young, acted young, talked young. But it’s understandable, because he is young. He won’t turn 21 until next Friday.
“I just got acquainted with him,” Thomas said when asked if he knew Jordan Babineaux, who started at free safety last season but will slide to strong safety with Thomas’ arrival.
“He’s much older than me.”
Much older? Babineaux is only 27.
“I’m only 20,” said Thomas.
But there is the geographical bond. Babineaux is from Port Arthur, Texas. Orange, Thomas’ hometown, is in the Beaumont-Port Arthur metropolitan area along the Louisiana border.
“When I was younger, he was probably at another college,” Thomas said.
True, again. Babineaux went to Southern Arkansas, at the time when Thomas was in junior high school – before he became an all-state player at West Orange-Stark High School. By the time Thomas entered the football factory that is the University of Texas, Babineaux was in his fifth season with the Seahawks.
But Babineaux was able to reach out across this football generation gap.
“He texted me last night and he welcomed me with open arms,” Thomas said. “I’m just glad to be part of this organization.”
And the organization is glad to have him as part of its defense. A big part.
“I like the fact that we get him,” Berry said when asked if he likes the fact that the Seahawks are getting him at such a young age. “To have a safety with his kind of range and his instincts and ability. The flexibility as a defensive staff – to put him down and line him up on the slot and find the man – you get to keep personnel packages the same and that is a huge advantage.
“Playmaking safeties are rare.”
As young as Thomas looks, and sometimes talks, his maturity transcends his years once he steps on the field.
Asked about the obvious questions regarding Thomas’ maturity level, Berry said, “There’s a lot of that. But once you get around Earl and you see how important football is to him and how he carries himself … all those reservations are going to go away pretty quickly.”
Thomas will get the opportunity to make more impressive first impressions at the team’s three-day minicamp that starts Friday.
Carroll already has seen enough, but can’t wait to see more.
“We couldn’t help but see his playmaking ability,” he said. “It shows on the field.”
There’s the speed. Thomas ran the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day in March in “4.3-something” seconds, as Carroll put it, adding “and pulled up (at the end).”
There’s the surprising strength for a 202-pounder. Thomas did 21 reps with 225 pounds at the scouting combine in February.
There’s the athletic ability. Thomas didn’t just play basketball and baseball in high school, he was the point guard and centerfielder – in the middle of the action where, just like at free safety, he can make the most plays.
There’s the playmaking ability that Carroll emphasized at every opportunity. Thomas intercepted eight passes last season, breaking the school record set in 1984 by Seahawks defensive backs coach Jerry Gray. In 14 games, he touched 32 balls. “Which is not easy to do,” Berry said.
“He can work his body to get in front of guys and make plays and knock the ball down and make his interceptions,” Carroll said.
Not to mention those impressive first impressions.