Josh Thomas had barely unpacked his first bag upon his arrival from Carolina. Yet here was the newest Seahawk sharing his memory from last season’s opener between Seattle and his now-former Panthers.
“What I remember is 15, at the very end of the game, he came up and got the ball over me,” Thomas, the Seahawks’ new cornerback, said Monday.
No. 15 for Seattle is Jermaine Kearse. The former undrafted wide receiver out of Lakes High School in Lakewood and the University of Washington began cementing the trust of quarterback Russell Wilson on that hot September afternoon in Charlotte, N.C. with his jump-ball, 43-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. It was the last score in the Seahawks’ 12-7 win that started Seattle toward its first Super Bowl championship.
Thomas is so competitive that Monday he wanted to talk to Kearse as soon as he could. Not to relive getting beaten on that opener’s biggest play. To show Kearse — and by extension the Seahawks (1-0) — he will continue to battle beginning Wednesday when practice resumes for Sunday’s game at San Diego (0-1).
“Competition is what I breathe for,” Thomas said. “I’m a competitor, a real competitor. Just seeing that, end of the game, coming at me, I mean, it doesn’t get any better than that.
“So I’m excited to be here. And I’m also ready.”
Good thing, because the Seahawks signed Thomas to compete immediately with recently acquired Marcus Burley and perhaps starting corner Byron Maxwell for the nickel defensive-back job. That’s open because Jeremy Lane re-injured his groin in last week’s opening win over Green Bay.
Lane went on the injured-reserve list Monday with a designation to return in eight weeks.
How important is this position right now for the Seahawks? They were in nickel on 92 percent of the defensive snaps against the Packers. And in the next two weeks, Seattle’s secondary faces San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Denver’s Peyton Manning, two of the top-rated quarterbacks in the NFL last season. They combined to throw for 9,955 yards in the 2013 regular season.
The Seahawks used Burley, acquired two Saturdays ago from Indianapolis in a trade, at nickel on Thursday against the Packers after Lane got hurt in the third quarter, and coach Pete Carroll said he was impressed. Seattle could also move Maxwell from right cornerback inside to cover the slot and put Burley, the bigger DeShawn Shead, or now Thomas, outside at corner against the Chargers.
At 5-feet-11 and 196 pounds, Thomas is one inch shorter but six pounds heavier than Lane.
“I’m obviously open to playing any position,” he said. “I want to be a piece of clay that can be molded.”
The Panthers, for whom Thomas started six games last season, released him among their final preseason cuts on Aug. 30. He said his agent called Seattle immediately and found mutual interest.
Thomas arrived Sunday night from Charlotte, North Carolina, where he owns a home with his wife Ashonte and 2-year-old son Dallas; he grew up in Cedar Hill, Texas, in the suburbs southwest of Dallas. By Monday morning, the former 8-year-old defensive back for the Pop Warner-league Oak Cliff Bears was among five defensive backs in a tryout with the Super Bowl champions.
By the afternoon he had a Seahawks contract, jersey No. 32 and a place not just on the active roster but with a new “family.”
Thomas said he appreciated Richard Sherman, Maxwell and Earl Thomas leading a parade of Seahawks defensive backs in introducing themselves and welcoming the new guy.
“That was the only thing I was really nervous about, because this is a family,” Josh Thomas said. “Anytime you move into a new family it’s always … unique, I would say.
“The guys have welcomed me with open arms. I’m excited.”
Asked if he expects to play Sunday in San Diego, Thomas smiled.
“Well, I just got here today,” he said Monday. “You probably know just as much as I do.”
While also excelling in track and powerlifting as a teenager, Thomas volunteered to play safety at Cedar Hill High School because that team had two eventual Division-I college cornerbacks on it. Thomas was a key member of the 2006 Class 5A Texas state championship then signed a scholarship with the University at Buffalo.
Buffalo’s coach at the time, former Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill, moved Thomas to cornerback and made him a four-year starter. He earned the reputation for being a cornerback that hit like a safety, forcing five fumbles in his sophomore through senior seasons.
Thomas’ hometown Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the fifth round in 2011. He was the team’s final cut that preseason. Thomas played 29 games the past two seasons in Carolina; he said Monday he wasn’t surprised they released him two weeks ago.
“I’ve closed that chapter,” he says.
Just not the part of Kearse leaping over him for the winning score 12 months ago in Charlotte. That still fuels him, motivation that will come in handy when the Seahawks begin practice Wednesday.
Reminded that Kearse jumped over many defensive backs last season while averaging 15.7 yards per catch with four touchdowns in the regular season and 19.1 yards per reception with two more scores in the postseason, Thomas laughed.
“He did,” Thomas said. “But he started with me.
“I know they were No. 1 last year. That says enough. At this point in my career, to come here to Seattle with what they accomplished, I am open-minded and willing to learn.
“For a player like myself the sky’s the limit. So if they are doing something right, why not just jump on board, right?
The Seahawks brought back recently released wide receiver Phil Bates onto their practice squad and released linebacker Allen Bradford from the practice squad.