RENTON – Walter Thurmond was a defensive standout this preseason. That’s something you’ve probably heard, in some form or another.
He had five tackles against Green Bay. He had a one-handed interception against Oakland. He held his own against Seattle’s first-team receivers all training camp. So it would be fair to call Thurmond a standout, right?
“Uh, he was normal,” said Kris Richard, Seattle’s defensive-backs coach. “That’s who he is. People tend to forget that. This guy is a starting cornerback in the NFL. For us it wasn’t a surprise.”
It was easy to overlook Thurmond the last two years because he’d been sidelined with injuries, a trend that has haunted him dating back to his days at Oregon.
A healthy Thurmond, though, was locked in a battle for the starting nickel spot all offseason with veteran Antoine Winfield, a battle he won when the Seahawks cut Winfield on Saturday. Coach Pete Carroll gushed about Winfield but succinctly broke down the reason he’s no longer here: “He ran up against Walter Thurmond.”
General manager John Schneider said in April that Winfield would play between 50 and 70 percent of the time as the team’s nickel corner, and there’s no reason to think Thurmond won’t carry that same workload.
“I know what type of player I am,” Thurmond said. “I know where I’m at in this league. All I can do is put it in on film. Every time I’ve been in the game, I’ve been a contributor. I’ve held my own against any type of opponent.”
The first thing that stands out is Thurmond’s deceptive size. He’s 5 feet 11, smaller than Seattle’s big outside duo of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner yet right in line with the size of most corners who play inside. But he’s got a similar wingspan as Sherman and Browner, despite both being at least four inches taller.
“You’ve got to make sure he doesn’t get his hands on you,” receiver Doug Baldwin said, “because if he does he’s very good at using his leverage and his hands to win position. It works to his advantage in so many different ways.
“He’s a smaller guy, but he has the ability to play outside because he has the wingspan, and he has the intangibles to be able to play outside. But then he’s so quick, so intelligent, such a cerebral player, that he can go inside to the slot and make plays in there as well.”
Thurmond, 26, was once viewed as a potential first-round pick heading into his senior year at Oregon. The school’s athletic Website described him as the “top defensive playmaker and team leader” but also included this immediately after: He “was lost for the season with a knee injury.”
And that has been the book on Thurmond, now entering his fourth year with the Seahawks. He’s received positive reviews when he’s played, but he’s struggled to stay healthy.
“He was always explosive and a really dynamic athlete,” Carroll said. “Early on, he was rough around the edges. We had to clean up some stuff. But over time he’s picked up all the technique that we want. His playmaking ability, his explosive nature in breaking on the football show up, particularly in this spot.”
The Seahawks took Thurmond in the fourth round in 2010, Carroll and Schneider’s first year, and thought they were getting a steal. Now they’ll see if that proves true after having to wait longer than expected.
“I’ve always thought that Walter was probably one of the best corners in the NFL,” Baldwin said. “Of all the guys they’ve brought in here that have come and gone, Walter has been one of the top corners I’ve played against by far. Hands down.”