Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas, considered one of the best in the NFL at his position, is angry, and that could mean trouble for Carolina Panthers.
Sometimes you float the question out because you feel obligated, not because you expect to get an honest answer. Most veteran athletes are masterful at concealing their emotions when denied individual accolades.
So when Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas offered a truthful response, it was clear that he felt dissed.
Does it mean anything to you that you were left off The Associated Press’ All-Pro first team?
“Yeah, it does,” Thomas said. “I was mad.”
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Going into this season, Thomas was widely considered the best safety in the NFL. And while the vaunted Seattle defense is brimming with stars, it’s tough to say that anybody is better at his position than Earl.
The man is the D’s “lynchpin,” as cornerback Richard Sherman said — a 5-foot-10 terror who makes plays no other safety can.
But no All-Pro recognition? No affirmation as one of the game’s best?
“They’re going to make you work,” Thomas said. “They’re going to make you work if you want to get to the Hall.”
Don’t get him wrong: There’s nothing more satisfying to Thomas than getting a win, but he isn’t going to pretend that the individual achievements don’t matter. Yes, he wants the Super Bowl trophies and NFC West titles and all the other stuff that brings banners to Seattle, but his prime motivation is a whole lot simpler — to be the best.
This goal is pretty clear every time he practices, works out or watches film. The Seahawks are some of the brashest, most boisterous professional athletes in the world, but Thomas is like a piccolo surrounded by electric guitars.
He’s quiet. He’s focused. He’s not rattling off one-liners like some of his more extroverted comrades. It speaks to a palpable intensity that might lead him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, one day, but it takes a little getting used to.
Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril wasn’t sure what to make of Thomas when he arrived in Seattle in 2013. He knew about Earl the standout safety, but he knew little about Earl the man.
So when he saw an elite player who wasn’t interacting with his teammates, he interpreted it as arrogance.
“I was like ‘Man, Earl is feelin’ himself,’ ” Avril said. “But now I know that isn’t the case at all.”
Thomas doesn’t deny that he’s quiet. If anything, he embraces it. He said his reticence in the film room or practice field helps him pick up on subtleties that might pass him by if he were more social.
Football is No. 1 focus — more than fun, more than friends, and … more than his family?
That might sound like a stretch, but when asked Thursday where his sport ranks, Thomas said that football is the top priority in his everyday life — “Even with my family. They understand me.”
He thinks about the game constantly. His mind doesn’t allow much else to enter. Remember, this was the guy who called Kam Chancellor weird for watching “Family Guy,” because the only thing Thomas would watch was “SportsCenter.”
But it’s that commitment to his craft that has helped Thomas rise to the top of his field. It is part of the reason the Seahawks have led the NFL in scoring defense for four consecutive years, and why their secondary has been considered by some as the best in history.
It’s why he was able to stop a Vikings drive by covering 20 yards in about four-tenths of a second to break up a pass to Jerick McKinnon. Tweeted Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller after that play: “Earl Thomas’ range is earth.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll emphasized Wednesday how critical Thomas was to everything they did defensively. And Seattle is going to need him to be at his best again Sunday.
The Panthers torched Seattle’s secondary the last time they met, stringing together two 80-yard drives in the fourth quarter.
Earl doesn’t expect that to happen again. He’s mad, remember?
It won’t be fun for the team he takes his anger out on.