In the darkest days, late February into March as Seattle mourned perhaps the most galling ending in Super Bowl history, Earl Thomas had some serious doubts.
Thomas, the Seahawks’ supernaturally intense, All-Pro safety, doubted himself in those first days and weeks following the first major injury and surgery of his football life. He doubted his arm was the same length as it was before shoulder surgery.
The most fiendishly prepared Seahawk even doubted whether he was properly devoted to the game anymore.
“Oh, it’s been very tough. A lot of negative thoughts in my mind,” he said Tuesday. “I was debating if I still loved it at one point.”
The love — like Thomas himself — is back.
The Seahawks’ ball-hawking center of their league-best defense practiced Tuesday in training camp for the first time since surgery on Feb. 24 to repair his separated shoulder and torn labrum.
Thomas wore a red, no-contact jersey usually reserved for the team’s quarterbacks and also wore a black brace over his repaired shoulder. He was able to reach up and make catches on high throws in position, group and team drills. At one point in a mundane, run-fit drill conducted at walking speed, Thomas hopped up and down excitedly and sprinted to his assigned gaps while teammates strolled during the plays.
“Being out here today reassures me that I love it,” he said. “I just think I need to be out here. I just need to be involved.
“I don’t know, the way I play the game I think I was just burned out. I think God did this to me. I hated that it turned out to be an injury. But just battling through an adverse situation, it got me back to where I need to be.
“Today was a perfect example for me. I felt like a little kid again, out there running around.”
Thomas went out of his way to defer to the Seahawks and their medical staff when asked whether he will play in the team’s regular-season opener Sept. 13 in St. Louis. Multiple times he answered “I’m not sure” and “we’ll see.”
But he made it clear he has seen enough already in a single, limited practice to know he doesn’t need to prove anything else to himself that he’ll be ready. He hasn’t missed a real game since he entered the league as Seattle’s first-round draft choice out of Texas in 2010.
“Well, to me, I think I’ve seen all I need to see today. I was flying around,” he said. “We’ll see.”
On Monday, coach Pete Carroll said it was “still realistic” Thomas will play in the opener.
Steven Terrell had been the first-team free safety filling in for Thomas until this week, when undrafted rookie Ronald Martin began practicing with the starters.
Terrell’s and Martin’s time with the first string might be ending soon.
Asked if he can now raise his left arm above his repaired shoulder with enough range of motion to do all that is required to play at his All-Pro level, Thomas’ face turned expressionless and serious. As usual.
“Yeah,” he said, nodding his head but in no way smiling. “You saw me on those deep balls. I think I did a pretty good job.
“I’m just happy I got a chance to get out there today. My teammates were happy to have me out there. It just felt good to run around. … I’m just happy I can raise my arm and catch the ball at its highest point.
“You know, my arm shrunk on me. This was my first major injury, and I had a hard time dealing with it at first.”
In May, June and the first dozen practices of camp Thomas often looked like a caged tiger at dinner time, confined to watching his teammates from the sideline. The team taking him off its physically unable to perform list two weeks ago yet conservatively and understandably keeping Thomas sidelined until Tuesday seemed to increase his impatience.
Given that, plus how intensely he plays and practices, it had to have been hard for him to be wearing that red jersey Tuesday, right?
“It’s not tough,” Thomas said of the red No. 29. “I look good in it.”
Only then did he smile.
Thomas played the second half of the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay in January and all of the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 with his separated shoulder popped back in place and the labrum torn around it.
“Your body is everything to you; it’s your machine. You give it up for the guys around you,” he said. “This game has been good to me. I want to put as much as I can into the game.”
Thomas said his rehabilitation has gone well in his, if not everyone’s, mind.
“I don’t think Coach Carroll-wise (it’s gone well); he’s constantly on me. But I think I’m doing a great job as far as rehabbing,” Thomas said.
“I’m just happy that they’ve taken the handcuffs off me and let me kind of do my job. That’s all I can control right now.”
He can’t control the other, pressing topic in Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” secondary: getting his partner at safety, Kam Chancellor, into camp. Chancellor’s holdout reached its 19th day with no end in sight.
Thomas said he exchanges text messages with the team leader regularly but hasn’t spoken to Chancellor in a couple weeks.
“Last time I talked to him I just said, ‘Come home. We miss you,’” Thomas said.
“I know I do.”