Earl Thomas makes strong case as punt returner
Starting free safety breaks free for 59-yard return, nearly scoring a touchdown in the process
Seattle Times staff reporters
The debate over who should return punts for the Seahawks just got a little more interesting — or maybe settled for good.
The Seahawks gave Earl Thomas first crack at the job from the beginning, despite the protests of many fans and media members who thought he was too valuable to return punts.
But in Seattle’s second-to-last exhibition game — and the last one where starters will play significantly — Thomas busted loose for a 59-yard return. The only blemish: He was caught by the Bears punter after it looked like he might score.
Thomas has balked at the notion that he shouldn’t return punts, and he has made it known he’s wanted the job from the beginning. Coach Pete Carroll didn’t say that Thomas had won the job after the game, but Thomas’ return was by far his best of the preseason.
“It felt like normal,” Thomas said. “It felt like anytime I get the ball I can make something happen. People are just so blind to the fact and stuck in their ways, but I love it because I’ve got a chance to shut everybody up.”
The only other Seahawks to return punts in the first two exhibition games were cornerback Phillip Adams and wide receiver Bryan Walters. Both are on the bubble of making the roster.
Said Carroll, “For Earl to get some space finally and get a shot at it, he looked really good. He said it felt like Pop Warner.”
Lane steps up
Cornerback Jeremy Lane made two plays that stood out against the Bears: an interception near the goal line and a near-interception earlier in the game. Those are the plays that drew a crowd of reporters around Lane.
But the play that started Lane off right was far more subtle but just as indicative of why he’s important. On Seattle’s opening kickoff, Lane got down the field in a hurry and made a tackle to stop the Bears return man at his 19-yard line.
“That got me started right there,” Lane said. “I’m a special-teams guy. I love everything I do. I like to compete, and just going down there and making the first tackle started the game off good for me.”
Lane is Seattle’s nickel corner — a role held mostly by Walter Thurmond last year and a prominent one considering how often opposing offenses throw — but he is also one of Seattle’s best special-team players.
• Thomas had Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall’s jersey at his feet after the game. Explained Thomas, “He asked if we could trade jerseys, so we traded jerseys.”
• Some prominent names returned to the field for the first time this preseason: center Max Unger, offensive tackle Russell Okung, linebacker Malcolm Smith and safety Kam Chancellor all played against the Bears after missing time because of injuries. Unger, Chancellor and Okung all played two series because Carroll said they got a little “gassed” while Smith played the entire first half. Linebacker Korey Toomer, who was one of Seattle’s breakout players during organized team activities and mini camp, also played for the first time.
• Kicker Steven Hauschka ended the first half with a career long 59-yard field goal. Hauschka made a 56-yard field goal in the preseason last year, and he made a 55-yarder in last week’s exhibition game. He missed a 53-yarder Friday.
• Marshawn Lynch carried the ball for the first time this preseason and turned one of his three carries into a 7-yard touchdown run.
Lynch didn’t play in Seattle’s first exhibition game and played for only two snaps last week. Lynch carried the ball three times for 16 yards against the Bears.
• Backup tight ends Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet both suffered injuries in the first half. Willson was looked at for a concussion but returned, and Helfet landed on his shoulder after getting flipped in the air and did not return.