RENTON — When the Seahawks drafted Walter Thurmond in the fourth round last year, they thought they were getting a steal.
Starting now, thanks to Marcus Trufant’s season ending injury, they’re going to find out in earnest if they were right about the cornerback from the University of Oregon.
And with that injury, as well as the decision in August to trade Kelly Jennings, the Seahawks are also finding out if their young cornerbacks have what it takes to play big roles on an NFL defense.
On the day the Seahawks picked Thurmond, who had missed most of his senior year with a serious knee injury, with the 111th pick of the 2010 draft, general manager John Schneider said the following:
“He was still there, primarily because of the injury he just suffered this past year, so when he was there, we were ecstatic. In my mind, if he would have finished the season, we would have been talking about him up there with some of the top three or four (cornerbacks). We were all really excited.”
Because of the injury, which involved the tearing of three ligaments, including his ACL, Thurmond eased into action last season after being limited throughout training camp. He started one game and appeared in 14, then came into the 2011 season hoping to win a starting job.
Jennings was still around, but the thought was that Thurmond would end up starting opposite Trufant. But then Thurmond suffered a high ankle sprain, it was former CFL standout Brandon Browner, not Thurmond, who unseated Jennings.
When Jennings was shipped to Cincinnati, Trufant was the lone veteran in an otherwise very young group that included Browner (no NFL experience), Richard Sherman (rookie), Byron Maxwell (rookie) and Thurmond. Special teams player Kennard Cox, in his fourth season, now is Seattle’s only cornerback with more than one year of experience on the active roster.
Despite the youth at the position, Carroll never a considered acquiring a veteran when Trufant suffered his injury.
“We wanted our guys to step up,” Carroll said. “That’s what we brought them here for. … We feel good about the young guys and we didn’t even think to go look for somebody. We wanted to go with our guys.”
With Trufant done for the season because of a back injury, Thurmond now steps into the starting role he hoped to earn a bit sooner.
“I’ve been ready since I came into camp,” said Thurmond, who started Seattle’s last game in place of Trufant. “Things didn’t go as planned, but there’s always a plan, so I’ll just keep preparing and get ready for next week.”
And while nobody wanted to see Trufant get hurt, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is excited to see what Thurmond can do in a full-time role.
“I think he’s got great potential,” he said. “He has extraordinary quickness and change of direction. He’s as fast and quick as you can get. He just needs to learn to be a consistent guy and take advantage of the preparation. He’s still raw, but he has exceptional break on the football.
“I think it’s just a matter of time before he’s a really good football player and really productive. In the meantime he’s going to have to grow. He’s going to have some new experiences and stuff, but the potential is really there to be a very, very good football player. …
“When we picked him we had hoped that someday he would be a guy that would be a starting player for us in a couple of years, if not sooner, and here he is.”
One thing that should ease the loss of Trufant for Seattle’s young secondary is, of all things, the presence of Trufant. The Seahawks elected Trufant their defensive captain prior to the season, and no one will take over that title despite the season-ending injury, Carroll said. The nine-year veteran will still be around to help Thurmond and the other inexperienced cornerbacks excel.
“Tru is our captain,” Carroll said. “He was voted for this season and he remains our captain even though he can’t be there all the time. He’ll be around us a lot. We already talked about that. Our young guys in the secondary rely on him quite a bit. … He needs to be a voice for those guys. He’s a big part of it.”
And as confident as Thurmond is in his ability to take over that starting job, he also knows part of his preparedness is due to the time he spent playing behind Trufant.
“He’s been crucial,” Thurmond said. “He’s been playing the game for nine years, so we had a lot to learn from him while he was here.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog