DANNY ONEIL

O’Neil: Temper your expectations when Pete Carroll praises Seahawks’ rising safeties

Aug 14, 2018, 12:29 PM | Updated: 1:53 pm
Pete Carroll has heaped praise on Seahawks FS Tedric Thompson in Earl Thomas' absence. (AP)...
Pete Carroll has heaped praise on Seahawks FS Tedric Thompson in Earl Thomas' absence. (AP)
(AP)

Pete Carroll wasn’t necessarily excited about having someone fill-in for the All-Pro safety who was holding out.

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t excited about the replacement, however.

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“He’s always been a playmaker,” Carroll said after a training camp practice. “We watched him in high school a million years ago it seems, but he was always a terrific playmaker and always did stuff. He just continues to show that.”

But enough about Dion Bailey, the guy Seattle started in place of Kam Chancellor back in 2015 when the Seahawks strong safety held out the first two regular-season games. Bailey gave up the game-winning touchdown in Seattle’s season-opening loss to the Rams and was waived in Week 3 when Chancellor returned.

Oh, you thought we were talking about the replacement for Earl Thomas? Well, here’s what Carroll had to say about the guy who stepped in for Seattle’s free safety:

“He’s got it,” Carroll said. “He’s looked really good when he’s played, so hopefully he’ll just continue to get better and more confident and flow with the guys better as we stay together out there.”

That was two years ago, though, and Carroll was talking about Steven Terrell who replaced Thomas after a season-ending leg injury.

Dredging up the overly optimistic views of previous safeties isn’t meant to diminish how Tedric Thompson has looked over the past two weeks so much as it’s done to provide some perspective on the tendency of Seattle’s coach to pile on the praise.

When Carroll says that Thompson has “everything you’re looking for” as he did after the first day of training camp, the coach isn’t lying, but he’s not giving you an unvarnished assessment of where things stand, either.

This is part of Carroll’s approach to not just coaching, but everything around competition. He doesn’t employ fear as a motivating technique. He uses hope.

Specifically: his hope of what a player will become, and by holding up that best-case scenario, it becomes a goal that those players not just strive for, but can meet.

This may be a great technique for getting the most out of a player, and I believe that it helps explain why we’ve seen so many players exceed expectations that greeted their arrival in Seattle whether it was Richard Sherman going from a fifth-round pick to the best cornerback in football to J.R. Sweezy becoming a multi-millionaire playing a position he never even practiced in college.

This habit of putting everything in the best possible light is a little more problematic for a journalist or fan who is looking for an objective measurement of where exactly a player is at. You can’t take Carroll’s training-camp assessments literally, something that my economist friend Ben Baldwin of The Athletic noted in a tweet that planted the seed for this column.

Which brings us back to Thompson, the second-year safety who is starting in the spot that Thomas has occupied so capably for the past eight years.

“He’s a real natural player,” Carroll said of Thompson. “He’s really smart, he’s got a great work ethic, he was one of, I think might have been the most productive guy in college football.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? And Carroll is certainly not lying, but he’s not necessarily telling you the whole truth of the situation, either. That part will have to wait until September when the games start mattering for real.

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