RENTON, Wash. – Safety Earl Thomas has no problem admitting he can be a jerk.
“I’m an ass during practice because I push my teammates,” he said. “I’ll be in their ear like I’m a coach. If they mess up, I’ll be like, ‘Damn, man, let’s go!’”
Quarterback Russell Wilson isn’t as demonstrative, but his quiet intensity produces the same effect.
“I spend a lot of time with Russ,” receiver Phil Bates said, “and he drives me to be in there with him.”
The Seahawks are in the Super Bowl for many reasons, but part of the equation is rooted with Thomas and Wilson. Because of the way they prepare, because of their intensity, they help set the tone.
“Whenever you’re talking about a true competitor, a true champion, a true football player who is passionate and loves his job and does everything he can to help his team win,” cornerback Richard Sherman said, “if you’re not talking about Earl Thomas and Russell Wilson then I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Wilson is 25 but only in his second season. Thomas is in his fourth year but only 24.
“But when two of your best players are your hardest-working,” veteran linebacker Heath Farwell said, “you can do nothing but follow it.”
Thomas always looks on edge. At practice, while his teammates joke on the sideline, he’s usually staring straight ahead at the players on the field. During TV timeouts at games, while the rest of the defense is dancing on the field, Thomas is usually pacing in the background.
“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, but then I finally realized that’s Earl just being Earl.”
Coach Pete Carroll called Thomas as “serious a competitor as you could ever hope to be around.” Cornerback Byron Maxwell agreed.
“That’s just in him, man,” Maxwell said. “It’s just something God blessed with him. I’ve never seen anybody else like that. … When I get out of whack, he’s always there. You need that.”
Here’s a small example: During a practice earlier this season, Bates was lined up against an ailing Sherman. When Bates broke off his route, he gave Sherman a little shove and sent him to the ground. Seconds later, he had Thomas in his face getting on him.
“Earl’s intense, and it feeds everything,” Bates said. “When I’m playing against Sherm or Kam (Chancellor) or anyone else back there, I know I’ve gotta come with it because all those guys are looking at him and they’re going to be intense because of it.”
Wilson’s preparation has long been noted; in fact, he could probably sell T-shirts plastered with the phrase “the separation is in the preparation” because he says it so often.
But while the words might be cliche by now, the fact is that Wilson is one of Seattle’s most locked-in players. He has been able to handle big moments throughout his young career largely by focusing on the smallest of details, like his footwork.
“Mentally? I’ve never seen him have a bad day,” tight end Luke Willson said. “Never. If he has, he hides it.”
That Wilson rarely chooses to look ahead or put much emphasis on big games might be boring, but it’s also a glimpse into how he views football.
Coaches from his high school days in Virginia to both his college stops talk about seeing the same Russell Wilson every day.
“The absolute best gift he has a person and as an athlete is he’s consistent,” said Dana Bible, Wilson’s offensive coordinator at North Carolina State. “When he’s having a bad day, you don’t know it. Every day you got a great day out of Russell. He was going to win that day. His consistency and ability to stay strong even through tough times or when he wasn’t feeling good – that’s so rare.”
The end result: If Wilson and Thomas can bring the same effort and focus every day, why can’t you?
“You look at those guys and you really want to give him everything that you got,” Sherman said. “So I think it’s about as positive of any influence on a team that you can have.”