By John Boyle Herald Writer
RENTON — Despite being one of the best defensive players in the game, Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas says he’s an offensive guy at heart.
This season he might just get a chance to show what he can do with the ball in his hands.
With Golden Tate leaving in free agency, the Seahawks need a new punt returner — that much has been known since Tate signed with the Detroit Lions. What is a bit of a surprise, however, is that Pete Carroll said Tuesday following his team’s first session of organized team activities that Thomas is currently the frontrunner in the race to be Seattle’s next punt returner.
Granted it’s still May, and it’s entirely possible the Seahawks could find another option, perhaps somebody who plays a less significant role than the All-Pro safety, but for now, Thomas is very much in the mix. And if you need a reminder why, go to Youtube.com and find a clip of his 57-yard interception return for a touchdown against Buffalo.
“I’m very excited,” Thomas said. “I’ve been waiting on this opportunity. That’s what I do, I’m an athlete. I’ve been trying to tell Coach Carroll to put me back there for the longest (time).
“I always try to go back there during walk-throughs just trying to sneak a punt return, just to show him who I am. I want to score touchdowns, so this is my perfect opportunity to score touchdowns. I’m an offensive guy at heart, that’s why I don’t try to go out of bounds when I catch an interception.”
Thomas returned only a handful of punts at Texas, though his first one as a sophomore was a 50-yard return, with the punter saving a touchdown, Thomas said. As for the notion that Thomas is too valuable to use in that role, it’s worth remembering that Carroll places a very high value on special teams and has never hesitated to used starters on various special teams units, including Tate and Percy Harvin last year, as well as Thomas and Kam Chancellor on kick coverage.
“I don’t care what they think,” Thomas said when asked about fans who would worry about his health. “This is my future. I can help this team, I know I can.
“I want to show everybody who I am. I want to be able to impact the game as much as possible. This is a great opportunity for me, I just need to capitalize on it.”
Also in the mix for punt returns, Carroll said, are Percy Harvin, Richard Sherman and Bryan Walters.
Harvin acknowledged that punt returns are “completely different” than kickoff returns, but said he’s excited about giving it a go.
“I’m working on it now,” Harvin said. “Coach came to me a couple weeks ago … I knew with the departure of Golden Tate, (punt returner) would be one of the things we’d be looking to fill. I’m just practicing it now, hopefully if I can get it on lock, I’ll be back there.”
Harvin was a full participant in Tuesday’s practice and said the hip injury that cost him most of last season is a thing of the past, noting, “This is probably the best I’ve felt since before college.”
Among those who didn’t practice Tuesday were DE Cliff Avril, who’s on his honeymoon; RB Marshawn Lynch, who regularly misses voluntary OTAs; LB Malcolm Smith, who is in a walking boot and recovering from an ankle procedure to clean up what Pete Carroll called “loose bodies;” DT Jesse Williams, who had an accident, according to Carroll and has a laceration on his leg that shouldn’t keep him out long.
S Kam Chancellor is still recovering from hip surgery, and is “way ahead of schedule” according to Carroll, and should be back for training camp. WR Sidney Rice, who is recovering from ACL surgery, did some running at the start of practice, but did not participate in the team portion. He, too, is on track to be full speed by training camp. QB Tarvaris Jackson was away with a family matter, while QB Keith Price was present, but didn’t do much because of a groin injury. CB Tharold Simon, who is recovering from foot injuries, is “really close” to practicing Carroll said, and has been cleared to run.
Horace Miller, an outside linebacker out of the University of Texas-El Paso who attended rookie minicamp as a tryout player, signed with Seattle on Tuesday and took part in the day’s practice.
The Seahawks also signed fourth-round picks Kevin Pierre-Louis and Kevin Norwood, meaning their entire draft class is now under contract.