May 27, 2014 in Sports

Earl Thomas could be returning punts

Tim Booth Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

eattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas, center, walks out of the NFL football team’s practice facility to talk to reporters on Tuesday.
(Full-size photo)

RENTON, Wash. — Apparently Earl Thomas’ $40 million extension with the Seattle Seahawks did not mean fewer responsibilities on his plate.

Next up for the All-Pro free safety: punt returning?

Don’t scoff. Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday after the first organized team activity of the Seahawks’ offseason program that Thomas would be the first up as punt returner right now. That all could change by the time the Sept. 4 season opener against Green Bay arrives. But for now, the job is Thomas’ to lose.

The question of who will return punts after the departure of Golden Tate in free agency is one of the few the Seahawks must answer this offseason. Tate was a standout for Seattle in that role, but he left for bigger money from Detroit during free agency.

Thomas isn’t the only one being considered. Carroll rattled off a list that also included Percy Harvin, Richard Sherman and Bryan Walters. But he was quick to say if the season started now, Thomas would be his choice.

“He’s the guy that has the most catches for us,” Carroll said. “But I’m anxious to see how Bryan Walters fits into that. He’s got experience. Percy is out there vying for it. (Sherman) would tell you he’s the best for it and he catches the ball really well.”

Thomas has not returned a punt in the NFL. The last time he did was during his sophomore year at Texas when he made three punt returns, including a 50-yarder against Kansas. He said it’s an opportunity he’s lobbied for since coming to the Seahawks and is hoping to take advantage since there is a void.

“I’m very excited. I’ve been waiting on this opportunity. That’s what I do. I’m an athlete. I’ve been trying to tell coach Carroll to put me back there for the longest (time),” Thomas said. “I always try and go back there during walkthroughs and try and sneak a punt return just to show him who I am. And I want to score a touchdown so this is my perfect opportunity to score a touchdown. I’m an offensive guy at heart. That’s why I don’t go out of bounds when I catch an interception.”

Thomas is a two-time first-team All-Pro selection, and quickly became the top safety in the NFL thanks to his speed and instincts as part of the top secondary in the league. The idea of Thomas putting himself at risk by returning punts was not a concern for him or his coach.

“I want to show everybody who I am and I want to be able to impact the game as much as possible,” Thomas said. “This is a great opportunity. I just need to capitalize on it.”

For his part, Harvin said he wants to be in the punt return conversation as well. Harvin has not returned punts in the NFL, focusing just on kick returns, and he said part of that was being on teams that had solid punt returners.

“Every coach I had … they always wanted me to put that in my tool box,” Harvin said. “So I’ve practiced it enough to be able to try and put it in some type of game.”

NOTES

When asked about not slipping after winning the Super Bowl, Thomas mentioned being upset last week when President Barack Obama mentioned rival San Francisco while honoring the Seahawks. “I said, ‘Why would he speak about the 49ers? This is not about them. This is our day.”’ … Carroll raved about OL James Carpenter having lost 15 pounds and being in the best shape of his career. Carpenter, a former first-round pick, is entering the last season of his contract. … Seattle signed LB Horace Miller of UTEP, who participated in rookie camp as a tryout candidate.

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