RENTON, Wash. – It was one thing for the Seattle Seahawks to know they would be without safety Earl Thomas for one game, maybe two.
Now that the former All-Pro safety is done for the rest of the 2016 season – no matter how far Seattle may advance in the playoffs – the Seahawks are facing a new reality for the rest of this year that doesn’t include arguably their most important defensive player on the field.
“I don’t think you’re going to replace Earl Thomas. He’s a very unique player. But he’s very quiet. He’s not a guy who adds a whole lot on the vocal side. He does it with his play,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said on Monday. “Earl is Earl.”
The Seahawks now know the earliest they will see Thomas back on the field is the 2017 season after he suffered a broken lower left leg in Sunday’s 40-7 win over Carolina. While there was an initial thought that Thomas could return if the Seahawks made a deep run in the playoffs, Carroll said further examination on Monday determined the recovery for the fractured tibia is too extensive for the star safety to make it back this season.
It’s a crushing injury to the player that makes Seattle’s defense function perhaps more than any other. And while Steven Terrell is a solid replacement with experience in Seattle’s system and one start already this season, he’s not Thomas, as Carroll said.
“You can’t make up for it. You just try to find some others who can do half of what he does,” Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett said Sunday night. “It’s hard to replace that kind of player who’s a Hall of Fame-type of player. You can’t really replace (them).”
Thomas was injured in the second quarter of the blowout victory, colliding with teammate Kam Chancellor as each tried to intercept a pass from Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. It was a violent and high-speed collision that Carroll said Monday also left Chancellor a little banged up.
It’s the first major injury of Thomas’ career and the emotional safety immediately became reflective, tweeting during the game that he was contemplating retirement.
“I know it’s really generated a lot of curiosity,” Carroll said. “He’s going through, at the time, the emotional part of dealing with an injury that’s a serious setback. I don’t know much more about it than that.”
Thomas has been a constant in Seattle’s secondary since he arrived in 2010 as the second draft pick made by Carroll and general manager John Schneider. He started 106 consecutive games, a streak that was snapped last week when he sat out against Tampa Bay due to a hamstring injury.
Thomas furiously rehabbed the injury in order to play against the Panthers. And he lasted barely one quarter before suffering an even more significant blow.
Carroll said the freedom with how Thomas plays is the most difficult aspect to replace.
“The experience that Earl has, has given him freedom to see things, make plays, feel confident making breaks on balls and taking shots on stuff. That comes from a lot of success, confidence building success,” Carroll said. “You get bold. Earl has become that kind of player for us.”
Terrell has been with Seattle since 2014, signed in part because of the quickness he brought to the secondary. He’s mostly been a special teams contributor, but played well a week ago against Tampa Bay with Thomas sidelined.
“It’s really important because we’re playing a lot of three-deep and you’ve got to cover a lot of ground out there,” Carroll said of Terrell. “We’ve had guys who don’t have 4.3 (40-yard dash) speed that have played over the years but it sure helps.”
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