RENTON — For reasons having nothing to do with health maintenance and everything to do with maintaining a hold on the football, FS Earl Thomas is being relieved of punt return duties by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. For a good reason — Thomas is way too amped.
“After the long experiment and time that we spent doing it, he’s not doing it,” Carroll, smiling, told reporters at his weekly presser. “He wants to do so well that his focus is challenged. I’d rather have his focus playing at safety.”
WR Bryan Walters, who has been off and on the Seahawk roster numerous times in his brief NFL career, will take punts Sunday in San Diego when the Seahawks play the Chargers.
In the first quarter of the opener against Green Bay, Thomas dropped a punt when teammate Richard Sherman had nearly his only major contact of the game — a block of the Packers’ Davon House into Thomas as he reached for the ball.
The fumble set up a 34-yard drive that became one of only two touchdowns the Packers scored in a 36-16 beat-down. Carroll is nearly religious when it comes to owning the ball, and it became clear that Thomas’s energy and impatience were not traits suitable for returns, when sometimes the smart move is a fair catch.
“He understands; he sees it,” Carroll said. “He has such tremendous pride in his position and what he brings to defense and what it takes to get that focus. We really just talked it through. He actually had the same thought the night before when I talked to him.
“Bryan Walters has had a tremendous background in catching punts. He’s got great hands and great decision-making. As far as I’m concerned, we’re getting an excellent situation guide for us. (WR Doug Baldwin) will be back there too.”
Carroll has always contended that he had no concerns about his All-Pro safety getting hurt on returns, as many fans have lamented. But all it took was one fumble on a ball that should have been fair-caught to send up a red flag.
Walters, 27, a star at Kirkland’s Juanita High, went on to Cornell and became the Ivy League’s career leader in punt returns. In the Seahawks’ exhibition final in Oakland, he returned every punt and kickoff. In three preseason games, he returned nine kickoffs for a 25.4 average.
On another unsettled personnel front, the suddenly thin Legion of Boom, Carroll said newcomer CB Marcus Burley did well enough in his short week of work before the Packers to stay as the nickel back, which the Seahawks often used last week instead of a third linebacker.
“For his first shot, I thought he looked really aggressive and I’m sure he’ll be a factor,” Carroll said. “We’re hoping that Marcus will take over that spot. It’s a spot that he’s familiar with.
“He had a really good preseason (in Indianapolis, where the Seahawks sent a sixth-round draft pick for Burley). You could really see him do the things we needed to see inside as a nickel guy, and outside covering. He tackled really well and he was really effective on special teams.”
Another newcomer, free agent CB Josh Thomas, will back up the outside corners, Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell. That job was supposed to go to second-year man Tharold Simon, but he had a knee arthroscopically repaired and will miss Sunday’s game. With CB Jeremy Lane gone for at least eight weeks with a groin injury, the Seahawks are short in the back.
“We’re challenged by the depth situation,” he said. “We were really were counting on Tharold to be there and battling for us. We’ve taken a blow with Jeremy’s injury.
“The cool thing is that both of these guys (will) come back to us later on in the year and our depth will feel a lot different. In the meantime, we have to put it together in a hurry.”