RENTON — There are two things you need to know about Walter Thurmond when discussing his injury-plagued career.
One, don’t call him injury-prone, no matter how many games he has missed.
Two, don’t feel bad for him.
Thurmond, the most tantalizing if-only-he-could-stay-healthy Seattle athlete this side of Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, is finally fully healthy and looking again like a starting-caliber cornerback in Seahawks training camp. But with him, it’s impossible not to go back to those injuries, which in his mind are anything but a sign of what’s to come.
Thurmond did indeed miss much of his senior year at Oregon with a serious knee injury, and he did break his leg in 2011, then re-break it the following spring, requiring a second surgery, and yes, he did end last season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. But in those injuries, Thurmond doesn’t see a pattern, but rather the result of playing a violent game. He tore several ligaments in his knee at Oregon returning a kickoff, one of the most dangerous plays in football, and he broke his leg with the Seahawks when he went airborne to make a play on the ball and had another player land on him. Even those hamstring injuries were, as he and Seattle head coach Pete Carroll have explained it, the direct result of him not having his legs fully strengthen following the broken leg.
“The injuries I’ve suffered are all football injuries,” Thurmond said. “Granted the hamstrings were soft-tissue, but that was related to me breaking my leg twice, and that (broken leg) was from making a play and somebody falling on my leg. And in college I got hit on a return. So it’s not an injury-prone type situation, it’s just the nature of the game. That’s the sport we sign up to play, and it is what it is.”
So then, surely we should feel bad for Thurmond, who might have been a first or second-round pick instead of a fourth-rounder if not for the knee injury. And who might have stepped in the starting lineup in 2011 and never looked back had he not broken his leg shortly after taking over for an injured Marcus Trufant, right?
“I’ve never felt unlucky,” Thurmond said. “Those injuries have made me a way better person than football player at the end of the day. So I really don’t regret those injuries because it helped me to be a better man. At the end of the day, football only lasts so long, and I’m a man at the end of the day. That’s going to carry me the rest of my life until I die, football isn’t.”
That attitude along with all Thurmond has been through so far make him a training camp story just about everyone can get behind. The talent is there, it always has been, but the question now is what kind of role he can carve out for himself in a loaded secondary. Thurmond is versatile enough to play every position, so at the very least he is an incredibly valuable backup, but the Seahawks see him as more than that. After all, Thurmond was ahead of eventual All-Pro Richard Sherman back in 2011, and Sherman only got his shot following Thurmond’s broken leg. That’s not to say Sherman is in danger of losing his job, it’s just a reminder of what kind of talent the Seahawks have on their hands.
“He’s healthy,” Carroll said. “He looks really good, that he’s really confident about his health. He’s got extraordinary quickness, an explosive play-making mentality — he takes chances at the right time. He’s a playmaker. He’s started for us, he’s played great for us. To have him really feeling good is the best part. He feels great. Physically he’s really on his game right now, so it gives him a chance to really battle for front-line playing time.”
Front-line playing time? At whose expense. After all, the Seahawks have Sherman and Brandon Browner, a Pro Bowler in 2011, starting on the outside, and they signed Pro Bowl corner Antoine Winfield to play the nickel corner role. Well even if Winfield is the favorite to win a job, don’t write off Thurmond at that spot just yet.
“It feels good being back out here, and I have a solid, legitimate chance to compete for a starting spot,” Thurmond said. “That’s the mindset I have right now.”
If Thurmond, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, can stay healthy and contribute this year, it could pay off for him financially, and it would also give the Seahawks what would likely be a more affordable option if they don’t think they can re-sign Browner, who will also be a free agent. For now, however, he’s just worried about competing, and yes, staying healthy so the conversation about him can be a football story, not a medical one.
“Having this past offseason to heal and get back for this training camp, it’s great and I’ve just been positive the whole time,” Thurmond said. “Now it’s time to go out there and compete for some jobs.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.