RENTON – In the past year, Earl Thomas has become a Super Bowl champion and the highest-paid safety in the NFL, the latter thanks to a new four-year, $40 million extension signed in April.
But the title by his name he really wants now, he says, is that of Seattle’s punt returner, one that coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday he just might get.
Carroll made that somewhat surprising proclamation after Seattle’s first Organized Team Activity (OTA) workout Tuesday at the team’s practice facility, saying that Thomas would be the team’s punt returner “if we had to start today.’’
Carroll also then mentioned as punt-return candidates cornerback Richard Sherman and receiver Percy Harvin, who rank along with Thomas as among the highest-paid and most-valuable players on the team. Receiver Bryan Walters, who figures to vie for one of the final spots on the roster, also was mentioned.
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All are competing to replace Golden Tate, who handled all but one punt return last year but signed in March as a free agent with Detroit.
Thomas and Harvin met with reporters and made it clear they want the job.
“I’m very excited,’’ said Thomas, who had four punt returns for 58 yards in two years at Texas but has not returned a punt in the NFL. “I’ve been waiting on this opportunity. This is 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 to try to sneak a punt return, show them who I am and I want to score a touchdown. So this is a perfect opportunity for me … I’m an offensive guy at heart. That’s why I don’t try to go out of bounds when I catch interceptions.”
And Thomas quickly shrugged off the idea that some might wonder if he is too valuable to risk returning punts.
“I don’t care what they think, you know?” he said. “This is my future. I can help this team.’’
Carroll likewise brushed aside the risk factor.
Harvin may seem the more obvious candidate, becoming known as one of the top kickoff returners in the NFL since entering the league in 2009. But he has never returned a punt as a pro.
Harvin, though, said he’s happy to do kickoffs and punts, especially now that he is recovered from the hip injury that sidelined him most of last season. In one of the most positive signs of the day, he said he hasn’t felt as good as he does now since college.
Harvin said Carroll approached him a few weeks ago with the idea of returning punts.
“Hopefully, if I get comfortable enough with it by preseason I can get some action back there,” Harvin said.
Sherman was the only Seahawk besides Tate who returned a punt in 2013, fumbling an attempt that turned into a 6-yard loss late in the win at Arizona when Tate was out with a sore foot. Sherman was listed as the backup punt returner for most of the season.
“Richard Sherman would tell you he’s the best one, and he catches the ball really well,’’ Carroll said. “He and Earl would take it right now.’’
Thomas also wants to take it in September.
“I want to show everybody who I am and I want to be able to impact the game as much as possible,’’ he said. “This is a great opportunity. I just need to capitalize on it.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.