Seahawks notebook: Thomas out, Walters in as Seattle’s punt returner

Sep 10, 2014, 1:32 PM | Updated: 2:02 pm
Earl Thomas' brief stint as Seattle's punt returner included a muffed punt in the season opener. (AP)
(AP)

RENTON – Seattle won’t risk Earl Thomas getting injured while returning punts any more.

But coach Pete Carroll’s decision to use Bryan Walters in that role instead has nothing to do with concerns that Thomas would be injured.

“It’s really about focus,” Carroll said Wednesday.

Specifically, Thomas’ focus. Carroll said he felt the punt-return responsibilities were taking so much of Thomas’ attention that it was affecting his play in other aspects.

Carroll didn’t rule out the possibility that Thomas could still return punts, saying he would be available, but Walters and Doug Baldwin will also be considerations.

Carroll was asked about Thomas’ reaction.

“He understands it,” Carroll said.

Thomas returned a handful of kicks in college, but had not done so in the NFL during his first four seasons with the Seahawks. He got opportunities in the preseason, and in the regular-season opener he fielded the first two punts, which Carroll later said should have been fair caught. On the second occasion, a Packers player collided with Thomas before the ball arrived, resulting in a muffed punt that was recovered by Green Bay.

Carroll said the move wasn’t made to protect Thomas from injury, but rather to let him focus on his responsibilities as a safety and in special-teams coverage.

Nickel for your thoughts

This isn’t the first time the Seahawks’ depth has been challenged at cornerback under Carroll.

It is the first time Seattle has looked outside to fill that spot, though.

With Jeremy Lane out for at least the next eight weeks because of a groin injury, Seattle has an opening in its nickel defense that uses five defensive backs. Carroll said that Marcus Burley – who was acquired six days before the regular season began – will be first up in that spot.

“We’re hoping that Marcus will take over that spot,” Carroll said. “It’s a spot he’s familiar with, and he did a nice job coming into the game.”

Burley was an undrafted rookie who signed with Jacksonville and was released. He then went to Indianapolis, which traded him to the Seahawks for a sixth-round pick in next year’s draft on the date of roster cutdowns.

The Seahawks’ depth at secondary has been challenged repeatedly over the previous years. In 2011, starter Marcus Trufant went down with a back injury followed one game later by Walter Thurmond, who suffered a broken leg that knocked him out for the season.

Richard Sherman stepped in and never looked back. Last year, starter Brandon Browner suffered a groin injury and then Thurmond was suspended, putting Byron Maxwell into a starting role he seized.

The difference: Maxwell and Sherman emerged from within Seattle’s team. This time, with Lane out due to a groin injury and Tharold Simon coming back from an arthroscopic knee procedure to repair cartilage, the Seahawks have turned to the outside, acquiring Burley and then signing Josh Thomas, a cornerback most recently with the Panthers who will play outside for Seattle.

Notes

• RB Christine Michael has a chance to return from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the preseason finale and the regular-season opener. Michael ran on Tuesday, and while he’ll sit out Wednesday’s practice, the hope is he’ll be ready to work out on Thursday and have a chance to play Sunday against San Diego. If not, he’s likely to be back for Week 3 against Denver.

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Seahawks notebook: Thomas out, Walters in as Seattle’s punt returner