In a good secondary, Earl Thomas has potential to be great

Posted Jul 8, 2013

Pete Carroll has worked with some terrific safeties during his career, but the Seahawks’ coach has this to say about All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas: “Earl is as good as any of the (safeties) I’ve ever coached.”


Defensive backs on the 90-man roster: 16, 10 cornerbacks and six safeties

Defensive backs carried on the 53-man roster last season: 11, six cornerbacks and five safeties

Incumbent starters: CB Brandon Browner, CB Richard Sherman, SS Kam Chancellor, FS Earl Thomas

Incumbent backups: CB Jeremy Lane, CB Byron Maxwell, CB DeShawn Shead, SS Jeron Johnson, SS Winston Guy, FS Chris Maragos

Finished last season on the practice squad: CB Ron Parker

Finished last season on injured reserve: CB Walter Thurmond

Veteran free agents added: CB Antoine Winfield, CB Will Blackmon

Draft choice: CB Tharold Simon (fifth round)

Rookie free agent: SS Ray Polk

Keep an eye on: Winfield, Thurmond and Blackmon. The starters are not only set, they’re the Legion of Boom – as the foursome of Sherman, Browner, Chancellor and Thomas has dubbed itself. And they’ve made a case for being one of the top defensive secondaries in the NFL. But who will be the nickel back? Winfield, a three-time Pro Bowl selection while playing for the Minnesota Vikings, was signed to fill the spot that long-time starter Marcus Trufant played last season. Winfield’s arrival led to Trufant signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency. But Thurmond is conceding nothing and, when healthy, has a lot to offer. Don’t forget about Blackmon, however, because the coaches haven’t. He was out of the league last season after playing the previous two with the Giants and spending 2006-10 with the Packers. The way he performed in the OTA and minicamp practices prompts one question: Why was Blackmon out of the league last season? One-word answer: Injuries, which have plagued Blackmon throughout his career.

Of all the good things about the Seahawks’ secondary, the primary one is Earl Thomas.

The free safety’s statistics pretty much say it all: 48 consecutive regular-season starts since being the 14th pick overall in the 2010 NFL Draft; an average of 75 tackles in his first three seasons; 10 interceptions, with one returned 57 yards for a touchdown; 23 passes defensed; four forced fumbles; two fumble recoveries; 15 special-teams tackles and a scoring return off a blocked punt.

And if those stats need some support, there are his honors: selected All-Pro last season, when he also was voted to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive season.

Still not convinced? Let Pete Carroll take a shot at it, as the Seahawks’ fourth-year coach rates Thomas among the best safeties he has coached – an impressive list that includes Ronnie Lott, Joey Browner, Tim McDonald, Lawyer Milloy and Lonnie Young, during Carroll’s first stint in the NFL; Troy Polamalu, who he coached at USC; and Milloy again, during Carroll’s first season with the Seahawks. These six combined for 33 Pro Bowls, 25 All-Pro berths and eight Super Bowl championships.

“Earl is as good as any of the (safeties) I’ve ever coached,” Carroll said. “All those guys are different, and Earl is more like Troy because of his extraordinary speed and his size and all that. But there’s no end to the potential that Earl has, because he’s so fast and he’s so tough. But more than that, he’s just so driven to be great. He’s just driven to be a great player and a great teammate.

“He can make all the plays. He’s learning. He talks so much differently now about the game than he did a couple years ago – and what he sees and what he expects and how he reads things.”

It’s not just Carroll, or first-year defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, or even defensive backs coach Kris Richard who have noticed just how special Thomas is. The other players in the NFC have voted Thomas to back-to-back Pro Bowls. A nationwide panel of media representatives voted him All-Pro last season.

“I love the fact that he’s been recognized from other players around the league,” Carroll said. “They can see it. There’s nothing to stop him from being there a long time.”

But that might not even be the best thing about Thomas, because he just turned 24 and we haven’t seen anything yet.

“He’s really just kind of hitting it now,” Carroll said. “He’s just getting going.”