By Danny O’Neil
RENTON – If he was healthy.
For three years those four words have followed any description of Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond, a footnote attached to any description of his potential.
If he was healthy, he would have been at least a second-round pick coming out of Oregon in 2010, maybe even a late first-round choice, but coming off a serious knee injury in which he tore three ligaments as senior, Thurmond was chosen in the fourth.
If he was healthy, he may have won a starting cornerback job for Seattle in 2011. Instead he was slowed by a high ankle sprain in training camp and after an injury to Marcus Trufant opened up a starting job in Week 5, Thurmond suffered a broken leg the next game that ended his season.
“He’s fighting to play a bunch, not just to be around here,” coach Pete Carroll said of cornerback Walter Thurmond, who’s missed 28 games over his first three seasons. (Rod Mar, Seattle Seahawks)
If he was healthy, Thurmond would have been Seattle’s nickel cornerback a season ago, only he reinjured that leg in the offseason, was not added to the 53-man roster until November and was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury after two games.
And Thurmond could be a factor in the secondary for Seattle this season if he was healthy, and guess what? He is.
“Now he’s right,” coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday. “He’s over that hump and really has prepared himself to have a great camp.”
Now, Thurmond is not some shiny, new offseason acquisition for Seattle so he’s not going to inspire the imagination in the same way as veteran addition Antoine Winfield. Not only that, but he doesn’t play a position of extreme need. The Seahawks’ secondary was already considered one of the best in the league, and that was before signing Winfield, a three-time Pro Bowler in Minnesota.
But don’t go crossing Thurmond off Seattle’s depth chart just yet. The guy who has started four games in three seasons as a Seahawk stands 5 feet 10 with a wingspan as broad as his 6-3 teammate Richard Sherman and an explosiveness that also merits consideration as a punt returner.
“Walter is physically capable of showing off,” Carroll said. “He is a tremendous athlete. He has been in a situation where he has kind of had to hold back a little bit for a long time, and then he’s really able to just go for it now. He’s got extraordinary quickness. He’s a playmaker. He’s fighting to play a bunch, not just to be around here.”
The question of where Thurmond would play seems to be compromised by the offseason addition of Winfield, who was added to a secondary with entrenched starters Brandon Browner and Sherman.
“We preach competition,” Thurmond said. “And from what I’ve been told, three spots are open for competition, the nickel spot and both corner spots. I’m going out there and just worrying about my game and competing for a starting job.”
By the same token, Thurmond is not alone in his aspirations about making an impact in that secondary, and he’s going to have to play his way onto the regular-season roster with Jeremy Lane, Byron Maxwell and veteran Will Blackmon – who was added this offseason – also looking to lock down a spot. Rookie Tharold Simon was drafted in the fifth round, and he’ll also be playing for a spot though he has not practiced recently, resting a foot that has been painful going back more than a year now.
But while injuries have slowed Thurmond’s career, they haven’t shaken his confidence.
“Personally, I feel that I’m an elite player,” Thurmond said. “I just fell short with circumstances playing this brutal game we call football. That is a consequence of playing. Both of my injuries are pretty serious.”
But now, Thurmond says he feels better than he has at any point since returning from the lockout in 2011. Before he suffered that high ankle sprain in training camp, then broke the same leg twice in the span of seven months and finished each of the past two seasons on injured reserve.
Healthy again, Thurmond is reminding everyone the kind of potential he possess if he can stay on the field.
“When he’s playing healthy, it’s just something we got in our back pocket,” safety Earl Thomas said. “If he can stay healthy, we’ll be good.”
Related: Walter Thurmond stands out at Seahawks’ OTA.