RENTON — Tedric Thompson. Bradley McDougald. Shaquill Griffin. Byron Maxwell.
Now it really is a Legion of Whom.
Tuesday, the Seahawks got to see what life is like without Earl Thomas, too. That’s because the three-time All-Pro free safety is skipping Seattle’s mandatory, three-day minicamp that ends Thursday, at the risk of $84,435 in potential fines from the team.
The six-time Pro Bowl selection who signed a four-year, $40 million extension in 2014 to become the league’s highest-paid safety at the time is vowing to hold out into next month’s training camp — and perhaps beyond — if he doesn’t get a new contract at his top price. His current deal ends following the 2018 season.
Before this week coach Pete Carroll had been saying he expected Thomas to be on the field for this minicamp because, after all, it is mandatory. Before this week the Seahawks had McDougald filling in for Thomas and second-year man Delano Hill at strong safety. That’s because strong safety Kam Chancellor remains away with a career-threatening neck injury.
Tuesday, the team’s look and coach’s words changed.
McDougald was the starting strong safety, for Chancellor, in the no-pads scrimmaging. Thompson was getting his first chances at Thomas’ spot of free safety, with the look that is how the Seahawks will go in its safety pairing as long as Thomas stays away.
In the first parts of the practice Thompson looked almost more hidden than he’s been so far in his NFL career. The second-year pro was the only Seahawks player on the field for the no-helmets part of drills wearing a hood over his head during the 68-degree afternoon.
After Thompson got the first extended looks as a first teamer of his brief career Tuesday, Carroll got a new answer when asked if he expected Thomas to be with the team for the season opener Sept. 9 at Denver.
“We’ll see,” the coach said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Carroll said he last talked to Thomas “a couple weeks ago.” Carroll said the team had a heads-up Thomas would be skipping this minicamp, before Thomas decreed that with an online letter Sunday.
“Obviously we wish he was here,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “He’s one of the best players in the world, and it’s always great if he’s on the field. That’s a better thing for us if he’s on the field just because he’s a great player. When it comes to people’s contracts, those are business deals. Each person is different. It’s a business. It’s a part of the situation. Unfortunately he’s not out here. (He’s) a great friend and a great player, and you want him out here for that.”
Does it really matter if Thomas isn’t at a minicamp in mid-June, three months before the real games begin?
“I think it matters,” Wilson said. “Obviously he’s one of your best players on the team. I know more than anything else, Earl knows how to prepare. There’s no better player in terms of safety, and, really, out of most of the defensive players I’ve ever played that knows how to prepare better than him. I’m not concerned about his preparation. You know he’ll translate that and be ready to play when it’s time. Hopefully we can get him out here. He makes our team a better football team. He’s a great player.
“We have great guys that can step up. … The young guys, like Tedric Thompson, those guys get to step in and learn a little bit more. Bradley is a great player. We got other guys that can step in, learn, and get those extra reps and play at a great level.”
Thompson is Seattle’s fourth-round draft choice from Colorado in 2017 reputed for aggressive coverage and plays on passes in flight. He played almost exclusively on special teams as a rookie last season. He got into parts of two games at free safety for a resting Thomas late in the blowout loss at home to the Los Angeles Rams in December and then again briefly the following week at Dallas.
“Tedric Thompson has always looked really good on the back end,” Carroll said. “He just needs to play some more. We really are confident in his understanding of the scheme. He’s a really bright kid. (He) takes care of his business. (He’s) really sharp. It’s just (a matter of) play time, and (we’ll) see how he does when he’s out there.”
There is an area of concern about Thompson the Seahawks won’t know about until at least after the first preseason game Aug. 9: proving himself as a tackler.
Thomas, of course, is one of the best ever at free safety doing that.
“He’s got to make his open-field tackles and all those things that will give us the sense of security that he can make his plays when he’s back there,” Carroll said of Thompson. “He was a big play-maker in college, if you guys remember. He had more pass defenses than anybody in the country coming out, and you see it on the practice field all the time.”
But the Seahawks never tackle in practices. Not even in training camp, not fully, bringing teammates to the ground.
“(He has) just a real positive upside,” Carroll said. “(We) just got to get him a lot of turns.”
This secondary isn’t all completely new. It’s just not anywhere near the Legion of Boom, perhaps the most telling evidence that this is a new era for the Seahawks, especially on defense.
McDougald is a former starter for Tampa Bay who in his Seattle debut last season started two games at free safety. That was after Thomas injured his hamstring in late October. McDougald started the last seven games of the 2017 season at strong safety. That was after Chancellor got his neck injury in early November.
Griffin was the starting right cornerback last season as a rookie. The third-round pick is now in Richard Sherman’s old left-cornerback spot. That move was to move Maxwell, who started the final seven games of last season for the injured Sherman on the left side, back to the right-cornerback spot where he played well in his first stint with Seattle, including in the Super Bowl-winning season of 2013.
The most impressive member of this re-done defensive secondary is the only man who hasn’t moved from where he played last season.
Justin Coleman has been a standout through organized team activities and Tuesday’s first minicamp practice. The nickelback Seattle traded for last September from New England has consistently been in the right place in his coverage assignments on slot receivers. Carroll ran into the defensive huddle to pat Coleman on the back multiple times Tuesday, including after Coleman zoomed into the flat to be right there for a pass by Wilson outside (NFL rules prohibit plays on the ball by defenders during offseason practices).
The secondary lost one new candidate for a job. Dontae Johnson, a former starter with the San Francisco 49ers, needs surgery for a foot he broke two weeks ago.
Clark, Maxwell reappear
After they joined Thomas in skipping the voluntary organized team activities the previous three weeks, Maxwell and defensive end Frank Clark were on the field Tuesday.
Maxwell was a right cornerback, a full participant. Clark was not on the field for group and team drills. Carroll said Clark, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract as Seattle’s most-accomplished returning pass rusher, has a nagging hamstring injury.