RENTON The Seahawks’ record for consecutive regular-season starts by a defensive player may come to an end this weekend.
Earl Thomas is doubtful to play Sunday at Tampa Bay, more so than maybe even he believes, because of a strained hamstring the three-time All-Pro free safety got in the third quarter of last weekend’s win over Philadelphia.
“He’s got a mild strain of the hamstring,” coach Pete Carroll said before Wednesday’s practice. “We are going to go slow with him this week to make sure we are doing the right thing. We won’t rush him, at all.”
Carroll said doubtful is a term he would use.
Thomas has started 106 regular-season games in a row to begin his career, six more than Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy had from (1990-97). Guard Chris Gray has the Seahawks’ record for all players with 121 consecutive starts from 1999-2006. Thomas has also started all 12 of Seattle’s postseason games since the team drafted him in the first round in 2010.
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner has played every one of his 76 regular-season and playoff games in the NFL with Thomas lined up behind him in the Seahawks’ defense.
I asked him if he can imagine playing a game without Thomas.
“I cannot,” Wagner said. “I’ve never played a game without Earl Thomas. Doesn’t he have some crazy streak of games?
“Yeah, I’ve never not looked back and seen 29 back there, so if he doesn’t play it’s going to definitely be weird.
“It’s strange. Especially a guy like that. He’s always talking. He’s always trying to alert you to things. That’s why it’s kind of like something’s missing.”
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, a fellow three-time All Pro, said Thomas himself doesn’t believe he will sit out the game in Tampa Sunday.
“You know him,” Sherman said, “he pretty much thinks he’s going to play. So he gets hurt, no stopping him from thinking he’s going to play.”
Exactly. Thomas isn’t wired in the precautionary mode of preserving himself this week for the benefit of better health into December and January. After all, he played the end of the January 2015 NFC championship game and all of Super Bowl 49 two weeks later with a torn labrum in his shoulder that required surgery that offseason.
So I asked the coach if how much he needs to guard the famously intense Thomas from himself, if need be, this week.
“He seems to be in a good place handling this,” Carroll said. “You would think that he would do everything he can, which he is, to get right. But I think he’s going to be mature about it and go along with the decision.
“We won’t give him his helmet, because he might go out and play.”
The coach smiled at that thought and added, “We’ll take care of him.”
Steven Terrell played the second half while Thomas was out against the Eagles. Carroll said Terrell will make his first career start if Thomas can’t play at free safety on Sunday. Kelcie McCray could also play free safety and has practiced there. McCray started four games at strong safety last month into the first week of November while Kam Chancellor was out with a pulled groin.
Starting cornerback DeShawn Shead also has a hamstring strain of similar severity to Thomas -- on Monday Carroll estimated those will take 10-14 days to heal. Carroll said Wednesday that Shead is in the same situation as Thomas regarding Sunday’s game at the Buccaneers.
If Thomas and Shead cannot play, half the Seahawks’ starting secondary will be missing against hot quarterback Jameis Winston, top, physical receiver Mike Evans and the Buccanners (5-5), who are one game out of first place in the NFC South.
Jeremy Lane would move from nickel back to cornerback for Shead on base-defense downs. When Seattle goes to five defensive backs in passing situations Lane would go back to nickel and Neiko Thorpe would play for Shead at cornerback.
Former Buc Michael Bennett apparently will not be playing against his former team. The Pro Bowl defensive end had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Nov. 2.
“It’s going to be really hard for Mike to make it this week. We were hoping and he was really hopeful, but I think it’s going to be pretty tough,” Carroll said. “It’s going to be a big turnaround.
“It looks more like he’ll be ready to go next week (for the Dec. 4 home game against Carolina).”