Steven Terrell didn't know if this opportunity would ever come. That's what happens when you back up an All-Pro who started every game of his career for six-plus seasons. But ever since coming to Seattle in 2014, Terrell has stayed ready anyway, excelling on special teams while preparing to play free safety, even if it seemed like he'd never actually get to play free safety in a meaningful game.
But now, with Earl Thomas sidelined for the remainder of the season with a broken tibia, Terrell is suddenly in the spotlight in a way he never has been since coming into the NFL as an undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M in 2013, and he's ready for this opportunity even if he also feels bad about how it came about.
"Obviously when somebody goes down, especially one of your brothers that you're so close with, it's tough," Terrell said. "It was pretty tough hearing the news but for me, but it was like, 'I need to step up, come in and do my job, do my part in this team and do the best I can to fill in for him.'
"I feel very prepared. Just talking with Kam (Chancellor) and (Richard Sherman) and Coach (Kris) Richard, having a great coach in Coach Richard, and being in the system for a few years, I feel pretty confident. It's been good to learn behind Earl and see how he reacts to things and his style of play. There's not many people in this league get a chance to learn from one of the best in this game."
And even if they have to go forward without one of their best defensive players, the Seahawks are confident in what they'll get out of Terrell, who has played well filling in for Thomas while seeing action in each of the past three games, including one start when Thomas was out with a hamstring injury.
"He's been working in our system for a long time," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "… He's got it, he's looked really good when he's played, so hopefully he'll just continue to get better and more confident and flow with the guys better as we stay together out there."
Added cornerback Richard Sherman: "We're incredibly confident. He's disciplined, he's sound, he has made plays. They took his pick from him with a nonsense (pass interference) call, that would have been a huge play. He could have had one in Tampa, a similar play. He's done a great job."
Sherman pointed out that the defense won't change even with Thomas out, saying, "we're running the same stuff we've been running."
That doesn't mean anyone, Terrell included, is expecting Terrell to do everything Thomas does on the field. That wouldn't be a fair expectation to put on a player preparing for his second career start in place of one of the NFL's best defensive players. Terrell is similar to Thomas in terms of his physical makeup and he knows the defense well, but that doesn't mean he has the same exact instincts as Thomas, nor does he have the experience of starting more than 100 NFL games.
"Just his natural ability," Terrell said when asked what is hardest to replicate from Thomas' game. "He's just one of those players that comes along once in however many years. He just has a knack, a natural knack and he just has it. He's really instinctual and has a great feel for everything."
Terrell also knows a key for him and the defense will be the communication between himself and other defensive players, Kam Chancellor in particular.
"Kam and Earl, they've played so many games together, they don't even have (to talk), they can just look at each other and know what the other person is thinking," Terrell said. "I'm not there yet. We're going to have to use verbal communication. We did a good job in the Tampa game of communicating early, so we're just looking to build on that."
Terrell's journey from Texas A&M to starting for the Seahawks has taken some interesting turns, which is part of why he appreciates this opportunity so much. After going undrafted, he first signed with Jacksonville, where he spent part of the 2013 season on the Jaguars' practice squad, part of the season back home after being cut, and part of the season on Houston's practice squad.
Houston released Terrell after the 2014 draft, and from there he received little interest from NFL teams until Seattle brought him in early in training camp. Just before Seattle called, Terrell was preparing to start a job back in his hometown of Allen, Texas at an athletic performance company called Performance Course. Instead, he put that job on hold to come to Seattle, and two and a half years later, he's preparing to start for one of the best defenses in the NFL at Lambeau Field, one of the most storied venues in American sports.
"The day I was supposed to start working a job was when Seattle called me and I had workout," Terrell said. "I was like, 'I can't take this job, I have to go work.' It was a tough time for me, just anytime you're a free agent, you're just working out and waiting for that opportunity. I had no workouts or anything, so I didn't really know what was going to happen. I stayed positive and stayed working out and luckily I got that call from here and I haven't left since."
Take a look at the Green Bay Packers players you can expect to see when the Seattle Seahawks take the field in Week 14 at Lambeau Field.