Nowhere among the many Seahawks changes is the dropoff steeper than at free safety. From destroyer of worlds Earl Thomas to sandcastle-building Tedric Thompson is a gap of years, experience and talent that fairly screams.
Then again, everyone thought coach Pete Carroll was nuts in 2012 when he started Russell Wilson in his rookie year.
Thompson, owner of eight NFL scrimmage snaps and lots of special-teams work in his 2017 rookie season, likely will step into the absent Thomas’s position in the starting lineup at 7 p.m. Thursday when the Seahawks open the exhibition season at the Clink against the Indianapolis Colts.
Carroll this week was eager to tamp down anxiety among the 12s that Thompson, a fourth-round pick from the University of Colorado, where he the college nation in pass breakups (23) his senior season, was in over his head.
“He’s done nothing but good stuff,” he said. “He’s had no reason not to feel good about himself. But he’s still got to make that transition to the game and then show up. We need to see him respond to when things don’t go right; how does he come back?
“What I can tell and the sense I have (is that) he’s going to be fine. He’s very comfortable.”
Then again, what else would Carroll say? “The kid’s a nervous wreck. We had to tie his shoes for him.”
Besides, Thompson can speak for himself.
“I feel a lot more prepared because I know the defense,” he said. “Last year, I was learning day by day. When we came back (in spring) I knew the whole defense. I knew a lot wasn’t going to change.”
Ah, but much has changed. Because Thomas is holding out in a contract dispute (the running total in fines, including missing mini-camp, is more than $800,000), the Legion of Boom is gone. SS Kam Chancellor had a career-ending injury. Richard Sherman’s torn Achilles tendon and his conflicts with coaches got him cut and picked up by San Francisco (he’s being held out of the 49ers’ opener).
Thursday unveils the new look: Thompson at free safety, Bradley McDougald at strong safety, Shaquill Griffin at Sherman’s left cornerback spot, and Byron Maxwell, a junior-grade Legionnaire when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, in the right corner in his second tour of Seattle duty.
How these changes add up is anyone’s guess, other than to say there’s no way they can approach their predecessors’ dominance, not in the first year together and definitely not in the first fake game. All they can do is not get hurt and try not to get embarrassed defending against Colts QB Andrew Luck, returning to action for the first time since what seems like the Civil War (Twitter users, you get my drift).
Matters are further complicated by the injury absences of Seattle’s prospective primary pass rushers, ends Frank Clark and Dion Jordan, the replacements for Michael Bennett (traded) and Cliff Avril (retired from injury). The situation is temporary, but Luck could hardly ask for better fortune for his scheduled one quarter of play.
Since nothing counts Thursday, it’s a good time for Thompson to take, if need be, a few falls down a few stairs. Carroll suggested as much.
“I want him to feel comfortable and supported,” he said. “We believe that the guy is a really good player and we just want him to let it go and cut it loose, and not hold back (by) playing cautious. I think he’s got a lot of plays in him. I don’t want him to be inhibited (and) try to work his way in. Let’s go.”
Thompson got the message.
“I think he’s saying to not be out there thinking, and just have fun,” he said. “Go have fun and don’t be scared to mess up. Trust myself and trust my teammates to have my back.”
If Thompson shows he can’t hack it, the Seahawks are not without some backup. In free agency, they signed Mo Alexander, who started 19 games at safety over four seasons with the Rams before being cut in midseason. But since he’s out this week with a hip flexor strain, Thompson will get as much time as he needs to begin the onerous task of replacing a future Hall of Famer.
Thompson talked with Thomas a week ago, just checking in, he said. But he doesn’t think about Thomas’s dispute with the Seahawks unless someone asks him.
“I’m always praying for E,” he said. “He’s a real positive dude in my life, like a big brother. I hope the best for him.”
Carroll was fairly honest when he said the strangely unsettled secondary may take the month to get a clue.
“It may take us the whole preseason to figure that out.,” he said. “The main thing is to keep him strong, keep him moving, keep him believing. I think he’s going to do some good things.”
The fake game is the first of post-Boom life for the Seahawks. Keep the expectations low and don’t forget to look through the fingers after you put a hand over your face.