Yes it's only June, and yes, it's only minicamp, but two numbers, 29 and 31, were still a very encouraging sight for the Seahawks on Tuesday.
When the Seahawks defense was on the field for the first day of a three-day minicamp, quite frequently the starting safety tandem was the same one that has patrolled Seattle's secondary together for years. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, both making their way back from injuries, were back together again moving at something at least resembling full speed.
Considering that Thomas is recovering from the broken leg that ended his 2016 season in December, and that Chancellor had surgery on both ankles this spring to clean up bone spurs, and considering that because of various injuries, those two only started and finished five games together last season, playoffs included, it's very good news for the Seahawks that both are doing anything at all in a June minicamp, let alone taking on a pretty significant workload.
"Determination," Chancellor said of being back on the field alongside Thomas. "It's God's will and determinations. We want to be out there, we want to be ready. We did everything we had to do to get ready, and we're still rolling."
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Thomas is "running around doing everything, flying around the field, and getting his confidence back. It's really been a cool thing to see because I know how much he wanted to find out himself, and he's been able to discover that he's in good shape and making good progress to camp… He's flying around now. He's testing is what he's doing. He's testing himself to see what he can and can't do and it's all good. He has done great."
On Chancellor, Carroll noted that the strong safety never felt like he was at 100 percent last season but fought through the pain in his ankles, and said, "You can tell right now he's got great burst. He's changing direction, he's really hitting it, so he has made a great recovery."
For Thomas, this ahead-of-schedule comeback is particularly important because of how much the injury affected him mentally immediately after he broke his leg in a midair collision with Chancellor while breaking up a pass. Thomas, who had never missed a game in his NFL career prior to last season, was shaken by the injury, especially since it was a leg injury and he is so reliant on his speed.
"I think it was definitely the shock of the moment," Thomas said. "Especially when you're having—I felt like that was one of the best seasons I was having in my career. I had the pick in my hand, and then right then, it's gone. This is my foundation, my legs, and just for my leg to be broken, I'd never went through anything like that. Of course I had the shoulder (in the 2014 postseason), but it's nothing like my speed."
Thomas said he felt like he is currently moving at 80 percent speed, to which Carroll later replied, "If this is 80 percent he's going to be flying when he comes back to camp. He's doing I think way beyond what he thought he would be."
At this point there is little doubt that Thomas will be full-go by the time training camp starts later this summer, and he has zero doubt he'll be on the field for Seattle's Week 1 game at Green Bay, but to say he's ahead of schedule isn't accurate in Thomas' mind, because he refused to put any schedule on his recovery.
"I didn't have any target," he said. "My goal was just to work my butt off and just let the chips fall where they may. I'm not a doctor. Most of the time I feel like the doctor just gives you something, I'm not going to take that. I'm going to push the limits and see where I fall at the end of it.
"It's an up-and-down process. Some days I leave the facility pissed off, because when you don't get any action, you're like, 'Damn, I feel like I'm slipping.' But other days I leave here feeling like a big kid. So it's an up-and-down process for me."
Up-and-down or not, Thomas' teammates are thrilled to have him back on the field after playing without him down the stretch last season.
"He's looking real good," Chancellor said. "He's out here looking fast. He looks like he's almost back to where he wants to be. He's looking very swift, he's getting to the ball fast, he's covering ground. He's just looking like Earl."
Asked how much the team missed Thomas while he was on injured reserve for the final four games of the regular season and a pair of playoff games, Chancellor said, "Oh, a whole lot. That's my brother back there. Me and him know each other. Shoot, without even saying anything, we know where each of us is supposed to be on the field. We just play the field well together."
Check out photos from Day 1 of the Seahawks' mandatory minicamp at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.