Thomas better than his numbers

RENTON — While oversized defensive backs Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor pile up interceptions, don’t forget the little man at the back end of the Seahawks’ defense.

Earl Thomas, the free safety who coming into the 2011 season figured to be the one making all the big plays, may not have the gaudy stats everyone was expecting in his second year in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t having a great season.

Last year Thomas, the 14th overall pick in the NFL draft, had five interceptions as his incredible speed and athleticism allowed him to make plays even if he wasn’t always in the right place. Yet for all the big plays, there also were times when Thomas’ inexperience led to miscues in the secondary. This season he has just two interceptions, but Thomas has been a much better player overall.

“We go back and look at last year’s film and see matchups and things at times to see how much sharper and more precise he is about his assignments and execution of our stuff,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a big difference-maker for us in that he’s played so clean this year up to this point. We know that he’s got big plays in him, but it’s really the play after play after play of being in the right spot, seeing the formations correctly, making the right calls. He’s had a great jump from his rookie season.”

Thomas has played every defensive snap this season, and ranks second on the team with 88 total tackles. And unlike last year when he was almost always playing as a deep safety, the Seahawks have used him in blitz packages and near the line of scrimmage in run support. He also has been a key part of coordinating a young defense that now ranks eighth in the league in total defense and sixth in points allowed. So, no, Thomas may not have the interception totals he expected, but he has been a much more complete player in his second season.

“A lot has changed,” he said. “The game has slowed down so much. I feel like me being out there is helping the defense better. Just lining people up, recognizing the formation and telling them what’s coming. It just feels good that I’m doing a lot of stuff that people don’t notice is going on. It’s a great feeling when the film study pays off on Sunday.”

Another reason Thomas’ interception total is down is because quarterbacks are more aware of the ridiculous amount of ground he can cover. Instead, teams have taken more shots at the other members of the secondary, which as it turns out hasn’t been such a great idea. Chancellor, Browner and rookie cornerback Richard Sherman have combined for 13 interceptions.

“I don’t get a lot of balls thrown my way, but the corners have been eating a lot this year,” Thomas said.

Thomas isn’t complaining. He knows the ball will still come his way at times, as it did last week when he recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass in the first half of Sunday’s win in Chicago. Thomas knows that even if he isn’t always the one making plays, he is a part of a promising young secondary that is having a lot of fun this season.

“It’s fun out there on Sundays, especially these last couple of weeks,” he said. “… I think we’ve got a special group, one of the best in the league.”

Injury update

Receiver Doug Baldwin sat out Thursday’s practice after rolling his ankle a day earlier. Baldwin originally injured his ankle against St. Louis two weeks ago, but was able to play in last week’s win in Chicago. Carroll added, “We think he’s going to be all right.”

Linebacker Malcolm Smith (concussion) and cornerback Kennard Cox (hamstring), a pair of special-teams mainstays, were both held out of practice Thursday and likely will be game-day decisions, Carroll said. Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (concussion) returned to practice Thursday and “it looks like he has a chance to play,” according to Carroll.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog

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