Alright, Pete Carroll, the fun’s over. Your experiment didn’t work.
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It’s time to give the punt returning duties to someone else.
Am I nitpicking a little bit here after a 36-16 Seattle Seahawks win? Absolutely. But Earl Thomas needs to be taken out of the punt returning role immediately.
When returning punts, the All-Pro safety looked like somebody Seattle fans have never seen before: an Earl Thomas lacking confidence. He looked shaky on his first return and muffed his next punt return, allowing the Green Bay Packers to score a touchdown and take an early lead in the first quarter of the game.
So really, the score probably should have been a more dominating 36-9 victory. But that’s not where I have an issue with Earl Thomas returning punts.
My issue is with Earl Thomas putting himself at risk for injury.
Football is a fickle game– no player is immune to getting a nick or bruise here and there. And no player is immune to getting serious injuries either (see Tom Brady in 2008 and Aaron Rodgers in 2013). And the injury risk only increases when players are playing more snaps than their position requires.
Earl Thomas is a bonafide superstar safety in the NFL. He has elite speed, elite smarts and elite instincts. That’s why Carroll put him there in the first place; Thomas has the tools to succeed as a punt returner in the NFL.
But he also could be considered as the leader and brains of the Seahawks’ suffocating defense. His ability to play in center field by himself is what allows Kam Chancellor to drop into the box when the Seahawks play cover-3. His speed allows him to cover up rare mistakes by the other members of the Legion of Boom.
Imagine that Seattle defense, who looked excellent against a loaded Packers offense (although Brian Bulaga was out for the majority of the game) without one of its safeties and leaders.
I sure can’t.
Injuries happen in football; it’s a fact of life. All it takes is for Earl Thomas to misjudge a punt, fail to call a fair catch and get blasted by an opposing gunner. That screams concussion. That is a loss that the Seattle Seahawks cannot afford.
And there’s other options for punt returner too: Paul Richardson, Doug Baldwin and Percy Harvin are all names that come to mind. Richardson is lighting fast, Baldwin has excellent hands, and we all know what Percy Harvin can do on special teams.
The Seattle Seahawks are chasing history. They are trying to be the eighth team in NFL history to win back-to-back Super Bowls. And with the way the offense and defense looked against the Packers, that looks like a very attainable goal for the world champions.
But all players will have to stay healthy in order for that to happen.
Let Earl Thomas play defense; it’s what he’s best at.
And what’s best for Thomas is most likely what’s best for the Seattle Seahawks.