The second-year player from Colorado saw just eight snaps on defense last season but now could be in line to replace the legendary Thomas at free safety.
But if the specter of Earl Thomas’ uncertain future looms ominously over the Seahawks as they prepare for their preseason opener Thursday against the Indianapolis Colts, his replacement-for-now, Tedric Thompson — T2 to his teammates — insists he feels no extra burden.
“I don’t really think about it (replacing Thomas) unless somebody asks about it,’’ said Thompson, who was drafted by the Seahawks in the fourth round in 2017.
That’s the kind of clear-minded approach Seattle coach Pete Carroll wants Thompson to have as he takes his shot at proving to the team he can be a suitable replacement for Thomas, having for now won the right to start in the secondary alongside strong safety Bradley McDougald.
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“I don’t want him to be inhibited or try to work his way in or that kind of thing,’’ Carroll said. “Just ‘let’s go.’ And we’ve got confidence he is going to do all right.’’
Still, comparisons to Thomas — who has manned the free safety spot for all but seven regular season games since coming to Seattle in 2010 — will be inevitable, if also unfair.
There’s no way anyone can be expected to immediately replace Thomas, who even if his holdout means he never plays another game for Seattle seems assured of someday going in the team’s Ring of Honor and is still on a track for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And Thompson is far from the only option. The Seahawks are still waiting to see what they have in Maurice Alexander, a starter for much of the 2015-17 seasons with the Rams who is currently sidelined with a hip injury.
And who knows? Maybe something happens and Thomas somehow returns, even if with each passing day that seems more and more remote — Thomas’ fines simply for missing training camp are now past the $400,000 mark. Throw in the fines he could receive for skipping minicamp as well as a proration of his bonus the team could get back and a conservative estimate of the total fines accrued so far is past $800,000.
The Seahawks are already thought willing to play the hardest ball possible with Thomas, with hints dropped they’ll fine him to the fullest extent — fines are at team discretion until the regular season, when players have to be on the 53-man roster to receive their game checks when Thomas would lose $500,000 for each game missed — and appearing content with the knowledge that Thomas has to return at midseason to avoid having his contract toll.
But getting a good performance out of a Thompson/McDougald safety pairing might only embolden their stance.
Recall in 2015 the Seahawks talked up Dion Bailey, the replacement at strong safety for a then-holding-out Kam Chancellor, with stories written by national NFL observers that the Seahawks felt they could get along just fine without Chancellor. That proved quickly to not be the case and while that may have played little role in what transpired later, it might have at least helped both sides feel more comfortable about the reunion that came three games into the regular season.
But while the Chancellor holdout was thrown on the team at the last minute, the Seahawks have been preparing for the possibility that Thompson could someday replace Thomas since the day he was drafted in 2017, talking excitedly then about how he led the Pac-12 in interceptions his final season at Colorado with seven and all players in FBS in pass breakups with 25.
Thompson played little last season, though, with just eight snaps — all in late-season games against the Rams and Cowboys — with McDougald serving as the injury replacement for Thomas and then Chancellor.
It was, in essence, a redshirt season and Thompson admits it was needed, speaking frankly on Tuesday of how much he didn’t know he didn’t know about the NFL.
“I take care of my body more,’’ he said. “Last year I wouldn’t say I didn’t take care of my body but I didn’t know how key that was, especially early in the season.’’
Thompson also repeated what basically every second-year NFL player has said about the game slowing down for him now that he is more familiar with the defense.
Last year at this time, Thompson said, he was mostly trying to remember what he was supposed to be doing on each play. Now, he said, there’s no hesitation on assignment and he can play more freely.
The proof of that to Carroll and his Seahawks’ teammates has come in the way that Thompson has made a notable play or two each day.
“Tedric has a good eye for the ball right now,’’ said McDougald. “He’s been moving well, his breaks have been on point. He’s coming out of the middle of the field exceptionally well. He’s reading three-step (drops by quarterbacks). He’s making a lot of plays down the field just off the ball, and off the quarterback, mostly, and that’s what Pete loves and what’s what I love about him, as well.’’
And while McDougald has experience at both free and strong and says he’ll do whatever, he has also said often he prefers strong safety if given a choice.
So having who for now is their most experienced safety, McDougald, where he is most comfortable is undoubtedly another plus for Seattle if Thompson can show he can man the free safety spot well enough.
Carroll cautioned Tuesday to not expect a final judgment to come with what happens Thursday, noting it’ll take a few weeks to really sort things out (though if Andrew Luck is anything like his old self, the Seahawks could find out a lot quickly).
Thompson Tuesday downplayed what the night could mean for him, saying it’s simply a good opportunity for everybody.
But he undoubtedly knows all eyes will be on him and how the Seattle defense looks without Thomas as well as Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.
Among those eyes will be Thomas’, who Thompson says he has remained in contact with, though Tuesday he said the two last talked about a week ago and largely about non-football stuff.
More to the point will be trying to fulfill the request of Carroll to play without thinking about the ramifications of it all.
“Don’t be afraid to mess up,’’ Thompson said of what Carroll has advised him. “Just go out there and have fun.’’