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Originally published April 22, 2010 at 9:46 PM | Page modified April 23, 2010 at 5:23 PM

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Seahawks fill 2 big needs with Russell Okung, Earl Thomas

The Seahawks picked tackle Russell Okung from Texas with the No. 6 overall selection in the NFL draft, then picked up safety Earl Thomas of Texas at No. 14.

Seattle Times staff reporter

RENTON — Russell Okung was in the Big Apple. Earl Thomas was in little Orange, Texas.

Okung attended the NFL draft in person and shook the commissioner's hand. Thomas watched from his grandfather's church in his hometown.

They shared a dream of being drafted, and by the time Thursday ended, they shared a team. Both were selected by the Seahawks on a day when it was tough to overstate the importance.

"This was a big day for the organization," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.

The Seahawks used the sixth pick of the draft to choose Okung, an offensive tackle from Oklahoma State.

"I'm a bit overwhelmed," he said. "Definitely just a blessing to even be considered, and I believe Seattle made the best choice."

With the 14th pick, the Seahawks selected Thomas, a safety from Texas.

"It's still surreal right now," Thomas said. "Maybe I'll feel it in the morning. I'm in awe right now. I'm shaking a little bit."

The Seahawks, on the other hand, held steady with two of the first 14 picks in the draft. They stayed put, picking a pair of players who step into existing vacancies.

Okung, 6 feet 5, 307 pounds, becomes the starter at tackle from the moment he steps in the building. Seattle is not expecting Walter Jones back, and Carroll said the team will make a formal announcement on his future next week. Jones is expected to retire.

The biggest surprise about Okung's selection was the fact he was available. For months he was considered the top offensive lineman available, and he was one of two offensive tackles Seattle would have been willing to pick No. 6 overall. The other, Trent Williams of Oklahoma, was drafted No. 4 by Washington. When Kansas City chose safety Eric Berry with the fifth pick, it cleared the way for Seattle to take Okung.

Did Seattle find itself fortunate to have him available?

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"Absolutely," said John Schneider, Seattle's first-year general manager. "Detroit could have taken him with the second pick in the draft. We had heard that several weeks ago. We heard Detroit. We heard Washington. We heard Kansas City."

Instead, he was available for Seattle when it picked sixth, choosing a tackle who went bowling with Carroll and Schneider when the pair visited him in his college home of Stillwater, Okla.

"It didn't go too well on my end," Okung said of the bowling.

For the record, Schneider and Okung's scores were in the 60s. Carroll said he doubled that.

The selection of Thomas, a 5-10, 208-pounder, was a little more surprising.

Seattle needed a starting safety after cutting Deon Grant last month, but Carroll had closer connections to the other two top safety prospects. Berry played for Monte Kiffin last year at Tennessee, and Kiffin remains a formative influence on Carroll. Also, Taylor Mays played for Carroll the past four seasons at USC.

But Seattle opted for Thomas, who was recruited to Texas as a cornerback, redshirted and started two years at safety.

"He's unique in that he has the ability to play corner," Carroll said, "and he has played man-to-man on slots. It showed a spread of his ability level."

Thomas, 20, intercepted 10 passes in two seasons, including five in a four-game stretch last season. Schneider said that when Philadelphia traded up to the 13th pick, he believed it was moving to pick Thomas. Instead, the Eagles chose defensive end Brandon Graham.

That left Seattle in position for Thomas.

"Earl was our cutoff in whether or not we would move back," Schneider said. "We had an opportunity to move back, and we did not do that. We stayed there and took Earl."

That completed Seattle's first day in the draft, which Thomas entered in part to help his family, which lost its home to Hurricane Rita.

"They've been taking care of me all my life, and it's just a great feeling for me to be able to return the favor."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

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