The Seahawks’ best can still get better?

May 28, 2014, 10:02 AM | Updated: 10:28 am

By Danny O’Neil

RENTON – Seattle’s best can be better.

That isn’t an expression so much as an explanation. A rationale for why coach Pete Carroll would consider letting one of his team’s most valuable players return punts, and it is also how the Seahawks can counterbalance the talent drain they’re bound to incur.

Coach Pete Carroll says All-Pro safety Earl Thomas is the leading candidate to return punts for Seattle in 2014. (AP)

The Seahawks’ best players can still get better.

Safety Earl Thomas certainly thinks so. It’s the reason he’s not just excited at the possibility of returning punts, but has been asking to do it.

“I want to be able to impact the game as much as possible,” Thomas said. “This is a great opportunity for me.”

And an incredible possibility for the Seahawks when you consider not only Thomas’ speed, but how aggressive he has been when he manages to get the ball in his hands.

“That’s why I don’t try to go out of bounds when I catch interceptions,” Thomas said.

Now, this is generally where any discussion of Thomas as a punt returner turns into a debate over the possibility of injury followed by a whole bunch of hand wringing about risk and reward.

Instead, let’s look at the bigger picture here: Golden Tate’s departure to Detroit opened up a spot as the punt returner, and Carroll can look at a roster that includes Thomas, Percy Harvin and Richard Sherman.

None of them have returned a punt in the NFL. Any one of them could be great at it. The fact that all three of those players – who are among the most talented and the highest-paid players on the team – want to compete for that job tells you plenty about the room for growth on this team.

Seattle’s best players might still be getting better, and you can throw quarterback Russell Wilson into that group, too. He’s entering his third season and is only going to improve in terms of his passing and play calls over the next few years.

That internal improvement is something that can help offset the attrition that is not only bound to occur in Seattle, but something the Seahawks have already experienced.

The Seahawks are not better off having lost Red Bryant and Chris Clemons this offseason. They didn’t improve by watching Tate leave for Detroit. Those were important players that Seattle simply couldn’t afford to keep. At least not if the Seahawks wanted to have the salary-cap room to retain guys like Thomas, Sherman and eventually Wilson.

That’s why the youth of Seattle’s nucleus is such an asset. Thomas, Sherman and Wilson are at an age when you can still project that they will get better.

Compare that to the last time the Seahawks were coming off a Super Bowl because as good as that offense was with Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson and Shaun Alexander, the hope was to sustain that level of performance rather than improve it. Those plans were derailed by Hutchinson’s departure and Alexander’s fragility.

This time around, it’s very different, and not just because the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in February. Seattle’s roster is young enough that you can believe that its best players can still get better, a possibility that is reflected in Carroll’s most surprising plans at punt returner.

In four years, Thomas has proven himself to be one of the very best safeties in the game. This season, he’s eager to prove he can be even better.

“I’ve been waiting on this opportunity,” he said. “That’s what I do, I’m an athlete. I’ve been trying to get Coach Carroll to put me back there for the longest.”

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