RENTON — The ball was in the air and “the voice” was in his ear.
“Gotta make that play,” yelled Richard Sherman, on this day watching from the sideline, as Tharold Simon closed on a pass near the end zone.
Simon, a second-year cornerback from Louisiana State, did as instructed, leaping over receiver Taylor Price to pick off a throw from Russell Wilson, one of two interceptions Simon made as the Seahawks held their final Organized Team Activity (OTA) Thursday.
“Sometimes they might tell you something that throws you off a little bit,” Simon said with a smile about the constant coaching he received from Sherman and Earl Thomas, who each stayed on the sideline as younger players got the work instead. “But most of the time it helps you out.”
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Simon showed impeccable timing not only on each play, each leaping grabs in which his 6-foot-3, 202-pound frame was put to full use, but also in simply making the plays themselves.
Until the last few weeks, Simon loomed as one of the team’s biggest mysteries. Taken in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, Simon missed all but a handful of workouts and practices last season while dealing with separate injuries to each foot.
One was a stress fracture that dated to his days at LSU. The other was a new injury suffered when he broke a bone in his foot running up some stairs last fall. Each required surgery.
“It was hard because I wasn’t healthy and I came in kind of not healthy, so that set me back,” he said.
The Seahawks drafted Simon knowing he might need time to get healthy and develop, and considered last season akin to a redshirt year for a college player. Simon, though, knew more was expected this season, especially with the Seahawks needing someone to fill in for some of the depth lost with the free-agent departures of Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner.
“Oh, yes, it was a real urgency,” Simon said. “I wanted to be back.”
And finally healthy, he’s begun to show why the team drafted him, ending OTAs generally regarded as one of the players who had helped elevate his status the most.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said what most caught his eye is Simon’s fleetness of foot.
“When you stand next to him you see how tall Tharold is,” Quinn said this week. “I wasn’t quite sure what his speed was until we got the chance to see him out here and run with some of the guys on offense who can really go. To see him staying on top and playing, you can feel his speed. For him to be out here playing pain-free and playing fast, we’re really encouraged.”
As Simon said, referring to his learning of the system and adjusting to the NFL: “I’m still young. Still got a long ways to go.”
But if Simon continues on his current path, he could wind up with a significant role on the field this fall. Thursday, he often worked with the starting nickel unit (with Sherman out), alongside Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell.
There are others competing for the backup cornerback spots. But Simon’s size gives him, well, something of a heads up on most of the rest, specifically in looking like a good replacement for what the team lost when Browner departed.
Being forced to watch from the sideline last year was frustrating for Simon, but now he thinks it may have been time well spent.
“I appreciate it because I sat back and learned a lot, too,” he said. “Soaked it all in for this season. I just sat back, really, and just learned. That was the best part about it, instead of just getting thrown out there. I really had a chance to look at guys the whole year. …
“ Just watching those guys the whole season really helped me out a lot.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699
or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta