Tedric Thompson spent training camp last year working with the starting defense, only to lose that job right before the season started when Earl Thomas ended his holdout and rejoined the team prior to Seattle's regular-season opener.
Unfortunately for Thomas and the Seahawks, the veteran safety broke his leg in Week 4, meaning Thompson went back into the starting free safety role he had prepared for throughout the offseason and training camp, starting 10 games in 2018. Now with Thomas in Baltimore, Thompson is back in a starting role, and while he'll have to compete throughout camp in the preseason to keep that spot, the experience he got last year is showing on the field and in meeting rooms.
"He plays like a veteran," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He knows what's going on, he can make all the calls, he can help guys get lined up. He understands what's going on the other side of the ball well. He can help a lot in recognizing and identifying stuff. He was a fast starter, learning-wise, so he's in good shape right now. He's like a true veteran playing back there."
Said Thompson, "Personally I just feel a lot more comfortable as far as understanding the playbook and knowing where my help is. Being able to line guys up, and I think I'm just a lot more confident… Experience is the best teacher. The games I've played in last year, I feel like I learned a lot, and I'm still learning a lot every time I come out here. Like I said I'm just a lot more confident and ready for the season."
Of course Thompson knows he'll have to compete between now and Week 1 to keep that job. Bradley McDougald's versatility that allows him to play free and strong safety gives the Seahawks flexibility when it comes to picking a starting safety duo, and with Lano Hill working his way back from an injury, he figures to factor into the competition for a starting job, as does rookie Marquise Blair, who was impressive in his first preseason game.
"It's a great group," Thompson said. "We've got (DeShawn) Shead back, which is great. He's the one, him and Neiko Thorpe, who broke down special teams for me, and Shead broke down the defense for me… . The young guys, you saw what Blair did the other night. He's known as a hitter, but he can cover, he can run from point A to B, sideline to sideline, so I'm excited to see Blair. Ugo (Amadi) can play, corner, nickel and safety, free and strong, and that's real hard to do in this league. He knows every single (secondary) position."
Thompson, who was drafted along with Hill in 2017 when Thomas and Kam Chancellor were in the midst of their primes, knows that the Seahawks drafting two more safeties this year is just part of the business.
"When I got here my rookie year, Earl came up to me, and Kam, and they said, 'You got to have the mindset every day that you're trying to take my job,'" Thompson said. "That's just the nature of the game. Nothing has really changed since I was a rookie."
But while Thompson will have to compete to keep his spot, the fact that he has been healthy and consistent throughout camp is a big benefit, and as Carroll noted, he has been playing like a veteran more experienced than his years in the NFL. One way Thompson knows he can help his cause is to make sure he's a sure tackler who can keep modest gains from becoming big ones. When Carroll talked earlier this offseason about what he wants to see his team improve upon heading into 2019, one thing he pointed to was cutting back on the explosive plays (runs of 12 or more yards and passes of 16 or more) that his defense allows.
From 2011-2017, the Seahawks ranked in the top 10 in fewest explosives allowed, including the 2013-2015 seasons in which they ranked tied for first, first and second in consecutive years. Last year, however, the Seahawks were tied for 21st in that category.
"I'm planning on being a better tackler, improving my tackling," Thompson said. "Being a free safety, one of the biggest things is being able to tackle, because if something happens and they get by the front-seven, we're the last line of defense, so I've got to be able to bring those guys down. Instead of an 80-yard gain, make it a 13, 14-yard gain and line up for the next play… The free safety is the last line of defense, so I've got to be able to stop the plays if something happens in front of me."
Thompson will have to hold off challenges from the likes of Hill and Blair to keep his starting spot, but the first three weeks of camp have only helped his cause, especially as he and McDougald continue to build chemistry together with the No. 1 defense.
"We have a lot of trust in each other," McDougald said. "I feel like I know where Tedric is going to be, we communicate well, this is our second year really playing with one another, getting used to each other and I would just say we're growing, we're growing as two pros next to each other getting better."