Through the scout's eyes: Safety Earl Thomas
Posted by Danny O'Neil
Berry: "Earl is one of my all-time favorite players. He's a redshirt sophomore. I live in Austin so you went out and saw him as a redshirt guy, running around, and the first thing that sticks out about Earl on the field is how hard he practices, and just the tempo he carries himself. Texas is a little bit different place. You walk out and there are athletes everywhere, and he sort of stuck out.
"And then you watch him play. You see the instincts, you see the range. He's all over the field. In 14 games, he touched 32 balls at the free-safety position, which isn't easy to do. And you watch those teams, they're all spread teams so it's not like they're going down the hash a lot. So he can match up on the slot in man, he can do a lot of things from that standpoint.
"He's aggressive. He's tough, and he's a humble kid. He's come from nothing, and for being as talented as he is, his demeanor is what you look for. He's not going to be satisfied with being drafted. He wants to be a great player."
Q: He has the ability to see the overall picture, line up other guys?
Berry: "Earl, what he does and what he really has a knack for is reacting to the ball and reacting to what he sees. He's one of those guys that's rare athletically in terms of being able to see something and just being able to move. His reaction time, what he sees to his feet getting there is really quick."
Q: You mean the stuff you can't coach?
Berry: "There was a play in the Red River game where they threw a screen, and he read it. He tackled the guy for a loss, stripped the ball and they recovered on the 1-yard line. He has the ability to change the game from the safety position and have an impact on the ball. So that stuff jumps out on tape. As a scout, when you see a guy flying sideline to sideline. You see him anticipating the ball."
Q: Did the team, the franchise, you as a scout have reservations that he played only two full seasons and is 20 years old?
Berry: Once you get around Earl and you see how important football is to him and how he carries himself, the immaturity that you'd expect of a 20-year-old -- especially coming from Orange, Texas, which is 2,000 people in the town. They've been hit by hurricanes pretty hard.
"He carries himself in a way that he has been in the limelight at Texas. Those guys are treated in a different way than probably most campuses, and he has handled it well. And when you get to talk to him, you'll see, he's a humble, humble guy. So all those reservations go away pretty quickly especially when you talk to his position coach and the defensive coordinator. Everybody vouches for him as an individual, first and foremost, and just the way he carries himself."
Q: What about evaluating him physically at that stage? Was age a factor?
Berry: "What you see is you see rare speed. You see a guy who has got the ability to play man coverage, and then you see him off the hash, being able to support out of zone coverage. His range, it just jumps off the tape.
"So all those things, the athletic ability with Earl is probably one of the easier things to see. You see a guy with his speed, his quickness and his hip flexibility and his ability to play the ball, you see him do things that a lot of guys can't do. So that stuff is the easy part of the evaluation."
Q: What about his age, being 20, do you like the fact that you get him at 20?
Berry: I like the fact that we get him in the first place. To have a safety with his kind of range, his instincts and the ability -- the flexibility -- as a defensive staff to put him down and line him up on the slot and put him in man and keep personnel packages the same is a huge advantage.
"A playmaking safety is a rare thing."
Q: Were you holding your breath then when Philadelphia traded up to the 13th spot, thinking the Eagles might pick him?
Berry: "Exactly. I have a good friend on Philadelphia's staff, who scouts the area with me. I texted him after, and we both loved the player so I thought they were coming up to get him for sure."
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