A recap of the activities on Day Four of NFC divisional playoff game week:
Earl Thomas. The Seahawks’ rookie free safety had a game-high eight solo tackles in Saturday’s upset of the New Orleans Saints in their wild-card playoff game at Qwest Field. But it was actually the Seahawks’ first game against the Saints that proved to be a pivotal moment in Thomas’ first NFL season.
Thomas intercepted Drew Brees’ final pass in the Week 11 game in New Orleans, which tied Michael Boulware’s team record for a rookie. But he also was beaten for a pair of touchdown by the Saints’ Pro Bowl QB.
Mike Mayock, draft analyst for the NFL Network and also the analyst for NBC’s telecast of last week’s game, shared this story with Sporting News today:
“He’s an elite talent. He’s got as good a range as any free safety I’ve seen come out since (the Ravens’) Ed Reed. Earlier in the year, the first time they played New Orleans, Drew Brees beat him for a couple of touchdown passes. I thought that actually helped the kid grow up.
“I talked to Earl in the locker room last week, and he said the same thing. Drew Brees got in his head a little bit. Brees used Earl’s aggressiveness and instincts against him. After that, he’s learned to play a little more within the confines of the defense. It’s helped him have a terrific season.”
Sporting News Daily supported Mayock’s assessment by naming Thomas to its all-rookie team, along with Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry.
In addition to his team-leading five interceptions – the most by a Seahawk since cornerback Marcus Trufant had seven in 2007 during his Pro Bowl season – Thomas finished fifth on the team in tackles (71) and fourth in passes defensed (seven).
The Seahawks will need Thomas’ talent, range and improved play within the confines of the defense in Sunday’s divisional playoff game in Chicago because the Bears like to take shots down the field with Jay Cutler throwing to Johnny Knox (18.8-yard average on 51 receptions).
Left tackle. That’s where Russell Okung will be on Sunday. That’s where the team’s first-round draft choice played his first full NFL game in Week 6 against the Bears in Chicago. The sixth pick overall in April’s draft played a large role in the Seahawks holding Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers without a sack in the game.
But then that was expected, even though Okung was returning from a high ankle sprain and would get a high sprain of his other ankle and miss three more games later in the season.
“He was picked really really high,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “So the expectations where very high for him. He’s done a good job.”
Hasselbeck said the Seahawks were counting on Okung even before the draft, and the best indication was they had Sean Locklear and Ray Willis remained at right tackle in the first minicamp – rather than one of them sliding to the left side, as they had done in the past to replace Walter Jones when he was injured or holding out.
“We said, ‘Alright, you guys are playing right tackle. We will never move you to the left side. The last two years you’ve had to do that. Kind of play left side/right side. It wasn’t fair to you,’ ” Hasselbeck offered. “We said, ‘We’re going to go find a left tackle. We’re going to go find, in the draft, that guy – a Top 10 pick.’
“So that was the plan all along. So when he got here, it was his job and we were counting on him.”
With the way Okung has played, despite the sore ankles, it will be his job for years to come.
The field at Soldier Field. The footing this time of year “stinks,” as Bears Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher put it on Wednesday.
“It stinks for both of us, I know that much,” he said during a conference-call interview. “It’s not going to be good for both teams. They’re both going to have to learn to adjust your footing, adjust your steps, whatever you’ve got to do to not slip.
“That’s just the way it is this late in the season at Soldier Field. Hopefully, there hasn’t been 10 playoff games for high school this week on it, but you never know.”
The Seahawks will be prepared. Each player will have three pair of shoes – two with molded cleats and one where the cleats can be changed; with four lengths of screw-on cleats that range from one inch to half-an-inch at their disposal.
Just what’s wrong with the turf?
“You just slip,” Urlacher said. “If there’s any condensation or snow or whatever, it’s going to get muddy out there. It’s just bad.”
ON THE FIELD
The players worked for 90 minutes in the indoor practice facility at Virginia Mason Athletic Center, their final full workout before Sunday’s game. The team will hold what has become a walk-thru session on Friday morning before departing for Chicago, where it scheduled to hold a walk-thru at a local high school on Saturday.
“We had a great week of practice,” said leading receiver Mike Williams. “Coach (Pete) Carroll spoke on it when he just broke it down. We’ve done the things we can do to give ourselves a chance. So we’re excited and ready to do.”
Linebacker Will Herring had a strong practice today, stringing out a running play the resulted in no gain and also coming close to intercepting a pass on “Turnover Thursday.”
The official report, as released by the team:
Did not practice
MLB Lofa Tatupu (head)
Tatupu was again the only player to sit out. He was replaced by David Hawthorne, who was replaced on the weak-side by Herring.
For the Bears:
Did not practice
LB Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee)
Limited in practice
DT Anthony Adams (calf)
CB Charles Tillman (not injury related)
Tillman was back after sitting out Wednesday. But Tinoisamoa, the starter on the strong-side, sat out today.
FISCH ON THE MOVE, EVENTUALLY
Quarterback coach Jedd Fisch has accepted the job as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at the University of Miami. He will remain with the Seahawks until their season is over.
“Certainly the most exciting part of it was to be able to go in there and run the offense that I’m most comfortable with, and call it and coach it,” Fisch said after practice. “And be a part of something special. Miami is special. The U is a special place. It’s got the most amount of NFL players. To be able to coach those elite athletes on the collegiate level, you go there and you plan on winning a national championship.”
Still, it will be difficult to leaving what Fisch believes is something special that Carroll has started with the Seahawks in his first season as coach.
“So tough (to leave). So tough,” Fisch said. “Coach Carroll was phenomenal in his support and mentoring me through it and helping me through this decision. The fact of the matter is, it was just one of those opportunities that was real special.”
Asked about losing the third position coach he has had in the past four seasons, Hasselbeck cracked, “I wish him the best at Miami of Ohio. I think he’ll do a great job there.”
Hasselbeck then offered, “I’ve had a lot of coaches that have meant a lot to me and they’ve all gone on to have great success. Jedd has done an awesome job. Just in one year, I think he’s really brought that quarterback room together. … We’ve all become really good friends and we’ve learned a lot of football. It’s been a blast.
“It’s disappointing. It’s definitely disappointing. I sent my wife a text and told her he was accepting this other job. I think her text back was like, ‘That’s really bad news.’ For us, it’s really bad news because he’s been great. But I’m sure it’s a good opportunity for him. And that’s just part of the business, unfortunately.”
STAT DU JOUR
Marshawn Lynch’s electrifying 67-yard touchdown run against the Saints was the longest in Seahawks’ playoff history – 35 yards longer than the previous long run that was turned in not by Shaun Alexander or Curt Warner, but fullback Mack Strong in 2006.
Where was Williams during the run? “Spectating,” he said with a laugh. “Like everybody else, I was tuned in. When he came across the first level I was kind of like, ‘OK, maybe 33’s got him. Nope, 33 (cornerback Jabari Greer) didn’t get him.’ So we all take off down the field.
“He stiff-arms another guy (cornerback Tracy Porter), and you kind of want to make sure you’re in the highlight. So I might have gotten a shove on a guy, 20-30 yards down the field. But that play was really the guys up front and then just Marshawn’s effort.”
YOU DON’T SAY
“I think that’s just how he walks. He’s been doing that since he got here. Maybe it’s a strut.” – Hasselbeck, when asked about Okung limping off the field after practice