There it was.
For all the debate about Earl Thomas returning punts – whether the potential reward presented by his speed and shiftiness outweighs the risk of injury to one of Seattle’s most important players – there wasn’t much evidence that he would actually be any good in that role.
Until Friday night.
Thomas’ 59-yard punt return in the second quarter not only set up the Seahawks’ third touchdown of their 34-6 preseason win over Chicago. It gave some proof to the notion that Thomas can be an effective replacement for Golden Tate, who was awfully good in that role a year ago.
The job is Thomas’ to lose. It’s been that way since May when coach Pete Carroll said that among Seattle’s candidates to return punts, Thomas would be first up if the season were starting then. And while Thomas hadn’t necessarily done anything through the first two preseason games to make Seattle consider those other options, his two returns for a total of 5 yards to that point weren’t all that inspiring, either.
Much of that was due to a lack of space, something Thomas finally found in the second quarter Friday night.
“It was a terrific opportunity for him,” coach Pete Carroll said. “It was a good, quick punt, the hang-time was not real long for him so he got a good look at the coverage. We had a really nice scheme up front, everybody got on their guys and he hit it really cool. It was great to see that. … For Earl to get some space finally, and get a shot at it, he looked really good.”
Now, about getting caught by the punter. In fairness to Thomas, Patrick O’Donnell looked exceptionally fast as he chased in pursuit and made a shoestring tackle to save a touchdown. Tell that to quarterback Russell Wilson.
“I’m surprised he got tackled, actually,” Wilson said of Thomas. “I think it was by the punter, so I’m going to pick on him tomorrow.”
Pryor’s forgettable night
Two missed throws and one missed opportunity.
That pretty much sums up Terrelle Pryor’s brief appearance Friday night as he misfired on his only two pass attempts and in so doing failed to capitalize on a chance to help his case for a roster spot.
Pryor entered the game in the fourth quarter behind starter Russell Wilson and then Tarvaris Jackson. He first short-armed an intermediate pass while rolling to his left and then two plays later he was intercepted on a heave that looked like something out of a game of flyers up.
Jackson completed five of 10 passes for 65 yards, replacing Wilson after the first possession of the third quarter. B.J. Daniels did not play.
Jackson and Pryor are competing to be Wilson’s backup, and there’s no guarantee that the loser of that battle makes the team considering the Seahwaks have carried only two quarterbacks on their active roster more often than they’ve carried three. Seattle’s preseason finale against Oakland will likely determine the outcome.
“We’re going to go through next week and see what happens,” Carroll said.
Jeremy Lane knew he was in for a busy night given the frequency with which Chicago tends to throw in the areas that slot cornerbacks patrol.
He was indeed, and after a would-be interception popped out of his hands when he collided with the receiver, Lane hung on the next time he got a chance. That came late in the second quarter after a replay review wiped out a Bears touchdown. Three plays later, Lane intercepted Jay Cutler’s pass near the goal line and returned it 41 yards, helping Seattle’s starters take a shutout into halftime.
After dropping the ball on his first chance, Lane was itching for another.
“First down came, it wasn’t nickel yet. Second down came, it wasn’t nickel yet and third down came, I couldn’t wait to put my helmet on, go out there and try to help them stop them from scoring,” he said. “… I saw the formation that I’ve been checking out all week. I kind of knew what they were about to do and as soon as they did, I’m like, ‘Oh, this is my chance.’ I saw the ball in the air and just went to go get it.”
Lane finished with six tackles and three passes defended, both team-highs.