Over the past two years, no positional group on the Seahawks roster has undergone more dramatic changes than the once-vaunted secondary.
In quick order, the “Legion of Boom” disintegrated, starting with season-ending injuries suffered by cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor during the 2017 season. Chancellor’s neck injury forced him to hang up his cleats, while Sherman wound up in San Francisco after Seattle chose to release him.
As the only remaining mainstay from the historically dominant unit, safety Earl Thomas held out of offseason workouts and training camp last summer seeking a new contract or a trade. The Seahawks refused to meet his demands and after he landed on injured reserve with a broken leg, he left for Baltimore as a free agent in March.
In the aftermath of all of these high-profile departures, the Seahawks have been left with a talented, yet mostly inexperienced safety group consisting of third-year players Tedric Thompson and Lano Hill as well as rookies Marquise Blair and Ugo Amadi.
Coming off a season in which he started 12 games as a replacement for Thomas, Thompson didn’t take issue with the team investing two draft picks at the position. In fact, he didn’t even pay attention to the draft and given the organization’s expectations in the secondary, he’s not surprised new competition has been brought in to push him.
“It hasn’t really changed anything,” Thompson told reporters on Monday. “When I first got here it was all about competition. When I got here my rookie year, Earl came up to me, and Kam, and they said, ‘You got to have the mindset every day that you’re trying to take my job.’ That’s just the nature of the game. Nothing has really changed since I was a rookie.”
Despite the presence of Blair and Amadi as well as recently re-signed veteran DeShawn Shead, Thompson feels light years ahead of where he was at this time a year ago. Citing “experience as the best teacher,” he feels he learned a lot through trials by fire last season.
“I think personally I just feel a lot more comfortable as far as understanding the playbook and knowing where my help is. Being able to line guys up, and I think I’m just a lot more confident.”
As expected with a first-time starter, Thompson endured plenty of struggles after breaking into the lineup in Week 5. He battled inconsistency issues getting ball carriers to the ground and only managed to record one interception in coverage, but he also produced a respectable 57 tackles and a forced fumble in 14 games.
Having full command of Seattle’s defensive scheme entering his third year, “The Silent Assassin” used this offseason to continue improving his chemistry with veteran Bradley McDougald and has stressed improving as a tackler as a top priority.
“It’s huge, because as the strong safety and the free safety we usually, especially the free safety, 10 times out of 10 are the last line of defense.” Thompson said. “Regardless if a play busts or something like that we got to be able to get the guy down, and that’s what Seattle is known for: great tackling safeties.”
Thompson understands he won’t be able to just coast into the 2019 season and maintain his starting job. With ample competition pushing for playing time at both safety spots, he’s going to have to earn his spot once again.
But with three exhibition games remaining, Thompson appears to have a strong hold on the starting free safety spot. Coach Pete Carroll can see distinct differences in his play and understanding on the practice field.
“He knows what’s going on, he can make all the calls, he can help guys get lined up.” Carroll stated. “He understands what’s going on the other side of the ball well. He can help a lot in recognizing and identifying stuff. He was a fast starter, learning-wise, so he’s in good shape right now. He’s like a true veteran playing back there.”
Heading into another game week, Thompson should see far more extensive action after playing 20 snaps in the preseason opener against the Broncos. With Blair, Amadi, and Shead turning up the heat behind him, he’s chomping at the bit for the chance to show how much he’s improved and Sunday’s upcoming test in Minnesota will present a prime opportunity for him to secure a starting role.