The primary concern regarding the decision to make safety Earl Thomas the Seahawks’ punt returner related to the potential impact of the added duty on his health. No one worried that maybe Thomas wouldn’t be very good at it.
Thomas committed three blunders in three returns on Thursday night. First, he caught and returned for three a punt that he should have fair caught and not returned. Second, he tried to catch a punt and muffed it, after a Packers player was blocked into him. Third, Thomas allowed a punt to hit the ground at the 18, which nearly hit a teammate as it bounced around on the turf.
After the game, coach Pete Carroll expressed confidence in Thomas.
“He really should have fair caught the ball on both of those,” Carroll said in reference to the first two attempts, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. “He’s so aggressive, he got vulnerable that second time and he got pounded that first time, too. So we will keep working on it and get better.”
But there’s a chance it won’t get better; there’s a chance that these kind of things will simply happen with Thomas returning the punts.
“I was really just being me,” Thomas said. “Being aggressive and playing with no fear. I can’t control what happened.”
The team can control what happens going forward, by giving the job to someone else. When the Packers punted in garbage time, receiver Bryan Walters got the nod — and fair caught the ball. Moving forward, the question becomes whether Walters or someone else should handle punt returns.
By playing in the first game of Week One against the Packers, the Seahawks have an advantage over 30 other teams. Green Bay and Seattle can now sign vested veterans without guaranteeing their full salaries for the entire season. That puts players like Josh Cribbs and Marc Mariani in play, if the Seahawks are willing to devote a game-day roster spot to a punt returner.
Based on last night, maybe they should.