By Curtis Crabtree
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
RENTON, Wash. _ Earl Thomas has not missed a game in the first five seasons of his NFL career and he has no intention of starting now.
Despite missing the entire preseason, the star free safety is expected to start in Sunday’s regular-season opener against the St. Louis Rams.
“I’ve gotta keep the streak alive,” Thomas said. “It means a lot. I love this game. I’m just excited to go out there and play football.”
Thomas has played in 80 regular-season games and 10 post-season games since being selected in the first round by the Seahawks in 2010, along the way becoming one of the best at his position. He’s been selected to four Pro Bowls and been a three-time first-team All-Pro.
“That’s a spark plug in our defence,” defensive co-ordinator Kris Richard said. “He’s an impact player. He’s been working himself into a groove and it’s going to be a good thing to have him back.”
Thomas had surgery to repair the damaged labrum in his left shoulder this off-season and began training camp on the physically unable to perform list. He’s practiced for several weeks but was held out of games to limit the contact on his shoulder.
“It was very tough,” Thomas said. “You see guys out there flying around. I’m a competitor and I think they’re getting the upper hand on me and I can’t do nothing but just sit.”
Thomas injured his shoulder in last season’s NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers. He played through the injury as the Seahawks rallied to earn a 28-22 victory and a second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl.
Thomas once again suited up despite the injury and managed to make nine tackles in the 28-24 loss to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. He had to have his jersey cut off in the locker room after the game in order to get out of his uniform.
With Kam Chancellor continuing his contract holdout, Thomas’ return is vitally important for the Seattle defence. Dion Bailey will be making his first NFL start at strong safety in Chancellor’s place and Cary Williams will make his first start in place of departed cornerback Byron Maxwell, who signed with Philadelphia in free agency.
Thomas said he will still have to wear a harness on his shoulder for added protection.
“I hate the harness they put on me but I’ve got to wear it,” Thomas said. “I feel like I can’t high-point anything but that’s the way my cards are dealt right now.”
So is that going to be a limitation?
“If it’s going to talk the opposing offence into throwing my way, then yeah,” Thomas said with a chuckle.
While Thomas hasn’t been able to test his shoulder out with real contact in games, he’s been hitting weighted bags and putting pressure on his shoulder to make sure it’s ready to go. Head coach Pete Carroll doesn’t see any limitations.
“He looks as fast as ever and looks great, so I don’t see any indication that he’s not ready,” Carroll said.