RENTON - When you see his fluid hip turn, the mirror coverage on a receiver, and the nice pop delivered when he makes contact, rookie Walter Thurmond elicits visions of a young Marcus Trufant when he joined the Seahawks eight years ago.
His diving sideline interception in a recent practice, for instance, ranks among the most impressive and athletic plays of training camp.
But there is one accessory to Thurmond’s look that spoils the parallel to Trufant: The clunky, offensive-lineman style brace on his right knee.
Trufant was a first-round draft pick from Washington State. Thurmond arrived from Oregon at the cost of a fourth-round pick ... the discount caused by three prominent scars carved across that knee.
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“Honestly, we thought Walter was one of the top handful of corners in the draft,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Had he been healthy, we think he would have had a chance to be a very high draft pick.”
Had he been healthy ... yes.
Thurmond had been such a playmaker for the Ducks – returning five career interceptions or kicks back for touchdowns – he was named a 2009 preseason All-American and put on the national award “watch” list for defensive backs.
Taking the opening kickoff against Cal last September, the future was wide open for Thurmond. Until somebody missed a block, and Thurmond was flipped into the air by a hit on the right side of the knee. He didn’t see the man coming.
“Everything went POW!” he said.
Going on instinct, he stood and tried to trot off the field. The knee buckled.
The results of his MRI didn’t arrive until 7 the next evening. Three cruciate ligaments – the ACL, MCL and PCL – were all torn, leaving only the lateral collateral ligament holding the joint together.
“When they told me, I broke down,” Thurmond said. “My senior season was gone. I had worked so hard to get into the best shape of my life. ... Yeah, I was crying, and it was tough.”
The timetable for recovery? Who knew? A year ... forever?
He was told that the recovery for a regular ACL tear would be roughly eight months. But with everything else shredded in the knee, the prognosis was speculative.
“After I left Oregon, I went to Alabama with Dr. (James) Andrews’ people, and I started rehabbing all day, doing whatever I could to get the knee as strong as possible,” he said.
Typically, the workouts went from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., five days a week “... doing everything I could to get back to where I could play.”
Thurmond was invited to the scouting combine in February, where he was thoroughly examined, but was not yet ready to prove he could run.
“He should be a highly valued cornerback ... if his knee is completely healthy,” read the summary from the NFL draft prospects report.
The uncertainty left Thurmond on the board until the fourth round.
“Sure, being a competitor, I wanted to go higher, regardless of the knee,” he said. “But I know I was fortunate they picked me. It’s an opportunity and you can’t ask for more than that.”
Carroll touted his “speed, athleticism and kick-return ability,” and believes his quick return and aggressive play could make him one of the steals of the draft.
“He’s just an active, physical kid and he continues to make things happen,” Carroll said. “So that’s a great sign for us, and is just another great pickup for us, I hope, if he can continue to do that stuff.”
Until Thurmond can get on the field and stay healthy, he’ll be shadowed by that lingering “if.”
Like so many others picked up in the Hawks’ offseason bargain-shopping spree of rehabbers and reclamation players, Thurmond carries a risk.
But plays like he’s been making during camp and early preseason hint of a impressive potential reward.