The biggest question heading into the regular season for the Seattle Seahawks is who will be returning punts—a far cry from when Pete Carroll and John Schneider first came to Seattle in 2010 and turned the entire roster upside down. Earl Thomas appears to be the leading candidate, but some question whether or not he is the best person for the job, and others worry about risking the NFL’s best free safety to injury.
Thomas does not have a long history of returning punts. He did it a few times as a Texas Longhorn, but the Seahawks never had a need to consider Thomas until Golden Tate signed with the Detroit Lions during the offseason. It was actually Thomas that approached the coaching staff, so you know it is definitely something that he wants to do.
Some of those concerns may have been cleared up last night when Thomas returned a punt for 59 yards, nearly taking it to the house against the Chicago Bears. The return may have even catapulted Thomas far enough up the chart to start the season as the one returning punts, but the Seahawks have yet to indicate that Thomas will surely be the guy.
The main concern I have is risking injury. Losing Thomas would be an enormous blow for the Hawks—no question about it. However, I do feel like Thomas is one of two guys that are best suited for the job (the other being Percy Harvin). He is highly intelligent, and he has the speed and athletic ability to become a big time playmaker on special teams.
At this point I think it is only a question as to whether the risk outweighs the reward. Carroll is not afraid to use his superstars on special teams, so the idea is not exactly new. The only difference is that Thomas will be on the receiving end, rather than the side defending. The Baltimore Ravens let Ed Reed occasionally handle return duties, and that was often because they needed a spark. Sometimes Reed made a big play, and sometimes he didn’t. Well, in my opinion, Thomas has the ability to make more game-changing plays on special teams than Reed ever did. While some players may worry about the risk, it is clear that Carroll does not, and I don’t think that they are considering using Harvin on both punt and kick-return duties.
Like it or not, I think it’s time to prepare yourself for Thomas to take over as the Seahawks’ punt returner. You will learn to love it when he is torching defenders.