RENTON – Earl Thomas practices like he spent his morning stuck in traffic on Mercer, and he demands that his teammates match him.
One moment from training camp last season stands out. After rookie running back Christine Michael slightly lowered his shoulder into Thomas during a light-contact drill, Thomas yapped in Michael’s ear all the way down the field. (When reminded of the story later in the season, Thomas said he’s a jerk at practice to get teammates going.)
Nothing more than jawing came from the brush with Michael, but it’s a window into what it takes to play on the Seahawks.
General manager John Schneider is especially aware of that dynamic. He and his staff are putting more emphasis on unearthing what’s inside a player’s heart heading into May’s draft. Schneider doesn’t think that’s something the Seahawks have done a great job of in previous drafts.
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There were whispers last season that fourth-round receiver Chris Harper lacked the fire to compete on a well-established Seattle team. He never looked comfortable, and the Seahawks cut him before the season.
“How would he compete in this locker room? That’s something we’ve really focused on because this is such a young, competitive group,” Schneider said the day after Thomas signed a four-year contract. “You guys saw Earl yesterday. He’s 24 years old. I mean, he’s a fairly intense guy. These guys have to have a certain quality about them that’s going to enable them to come in and compete with and/or against guys like that.”
Thomas is not the only example on Seattle’s roster, but he’s as good of one as anybody.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn called Thomas one of the hardest-working practice players he has seen. Linebacker Bruce Irvin said he looks up to Thomas. Cornerback Byron Maxwell credits Thomas with giving him confidence when he became a starter last season.
“I’ve never seen nothing like that before,” defensive back DeShawn Shead said. “I always felt like I was super focused and locked in, but that’s a different level. To see that focus, you always want to try to reach that. And just by even trying to reach that, even if you ain’t all the way there, it’s going to be higher because he’s on a whole different level.”
“It took me a while to get used to it,” Shead added, “but then I finally realized that’s Earl just being Earl.”
Thomas and many of Seattle’s core players are now entering veteran status in the league. This will be Thomas’ fifth season, and he has the accolades on his rèsumè to back him up.
He is already highly respected in the locker room, but his stature will only increase among young players as he gets older. Schneider wants to make sure the Seahawks get players who can handle that.
“When we speak about how we want to go, the illustration of how he practices lives strong for us,” coach Pete Carroll said. “But it really goes beyond that. If you ask Byron Maxwell how he’s found his game, it’s because he’s tried to pattern his ways as he sees Earl. It’s a direct example of the impact he has.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org