As a rookie, the free safety who is as fiercely competitive as he is fast had five interceptions, but “only” 71 tackles. In 2011, when he was voted to his first Pro Bowl, his tackles were up (92) but his interceptions were down (two). Last season, when he added All-Pro honors to another Pro Bowl selection, Thomas still didn’t feel he had enough of either – three interceptions and 61 tackles.
But this season, we’re seeing the completeness of Thomas’ game as he has taken that game to a completely different level. He shares the NFL lead with four interceptions and leads the league’s No. 2-ranked defense with 57 tackles, including 52 solo stops.
But his contributions go much deeper than even those impressive statistics. Thomas also is the hornet that puts the sting in the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” secondary, and therefore the entire defense.
That’s why Thomas is the obvious selection as the best player during the best start in franchise history. In addition to being the first-half MVP for the Seahawks, the case also could be made that Thomas is the NFL Defensive Player of the Year at the midway point of his fourth season. The other players in the league with as many interceptions as Thomas don’t have as many tackles, and those with more tackles don’t have as many interceptions.
“Earl Thomas plays everywhere. He plays deep. He plays shallow. Sometimes he starts deep and he steals something shallow. Just a great football player,” Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens said before Monday night’s game, when Thomas had 10 solo tackles while making plays everywhere.
Thomas hasn’t just changed as a player on the field. He also has changed as a person. His teammates and coaches point to his increased maturity, which has amped the confidence in his skills and what they allow him to do on any given day and any given play.
“You can see Earl transitioning into a truly mature player – man and player – to where it’s like winning and losing doesn’t even matter anymore, because it doesn’t define him,” said Kris Richard, who played cornerback for the Seahawks (2002-04) and now coaches the defensive backs.
“He’s getting better, and he’s going to continue to get better because he cares.”
Told of that, Richard smiled and offered, “That’s where he’s awesome. Like I said, it wasn’t about the results, it’s about the performance. Your sole goal is to go out there and be your best and do your best, and you know when you’re doing it and when you’re not. Regardless of the outcome.
“And that’s his whole thing, that’s our whole thing. Every day we spend out there, that’s our intent. Our intent is to live up to or surpass the stands that we set. And we decide that standard from Day One. That’s the effort you have to put into it. And before you know it that effort that you’re putting into it is effortless. Because it’s who you are, it’s what you do.”
And Thomas, who’s still only 24, really is making being so good look so easy.
“Earl is playing outstanding. He’s playing his best ball that I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here,” said Sherman, who arrived in 2011 as a fifth-round draft choice and stepped into the starting lineup midway through his rookie season. “He’s playing disciplined. He’s playing sound. He’s playing aggressive. He’s making every play that’s there. He’s not missing any open-field tackles. I think a lot of people pissed him off last year, said he missed some open-field tackles.
“The last thing you want to do is tell Earl something that he didn’t do, or say something that he couldn’t do. Now, they’ve got him going. Now he’s frickin’ making every tackle, he’s aggressively punching the ball out, he’s making every play that’s out there.”
Thomas’ level of play has been so high, and so consistent, that it has become “expected,” as
“And every day, he prepares the right way. And he’s locked in. Every time you see him in the locker room, every time you talk to him, every time Earl and I text, or whatever it is, he’s so into it. And that’s what you’ve got to love about him – he’s the best for that reason, and he’s going to be the best for a long time. And you get excited about that.
“Having a guy on your team that loves the game so much, that’s exciting.”