One of the few weaknesses in Seattle’s season opener was the play of Earl Thomas on punt returns. He didn’t show the right instincts for catching the ball in traffic, and he ended up fumbling one of his chances.
Coach Pete Carroll initially said they would work through those issues and keep Thomas at punt returner, but after further reflection the coach decided to remove that distraction so Thomas can concentrate on playing the position he is paid to excel at: free safety.
Bryan Walters will take over as the main punt returner, Carroll said Wednesday.
Carroll said the lack of return action in the preseason made it take longer for the coaches to decide whether Thomas could handle it.
“I just noticed in the game that he wants to do so well that his focus is challenged, and I’d rather have his focus playing at safety,” Carroll said. “After the long experiment and time that we spent doing it, he’s not doing it.”
Many fans were leery of Thomas returning punts due to the potential for injury, but Carroll said that was not a concern. “No, it’s really about his focus.”
Carroll said Thomas agreed with the move.
“He understands. He sees it,” the coach said. “He has such tremendous pride in his position and what he brings to defense and what it takes to get that focus. He sensed it also, so we really just talked it through. … This is an opportunity for him to really focus even more where we need him the most.”
Carroll said the Hawks still might use Thomas “when we need him, but we’ll use Bryan Walters back there and mix our guys as we go.”
He added, “Bryan Walters has had a tremendous background in catching punts. He’s got great hands and great decision making. As far as I’m concerned we’re getting an excellent situation guide for us. Doug (Baldwin) will be back there, too. He does a really nice job back there, too. We’re in good shape numbers-wise; I think it will fit a little bit better.”