By the time the Seattle Seahawks selected Earl Thomas with the 14th pick in the NFL draft two weeks ago, Babineaux already realized that the team adding a safety – or two – was more than just a possibility.
“I knew safety was a necessity for us once they parted ways with Deon,” Babineaux said – referring to Deon Grant, who was released in March after starting at strong safety the previous three seasons.
That’s why there was no panic attack when the club’s second pick in the first round was – gulp – a free safety. The position Babineaux filled last season, in his first season as a fulltime starter. The position from which Babineaux registered a career-high 105 tackles to finish second on the team behind fill-in middle linebacker David Hawthorne (116).
“It was just a matter of who was going to be available,” Babineaux said. “So it didn’t bother me at all, because I knew what we needed.”
In announcing that Thomas, the athletic safety from Texas, would step in as the starter at free safety from snap one of the post-draft minicamp, coach Pete Carroll also said that Babineaux would slide to strong safety to replace Grant.
“And that’ll be good for Jordan, as well,” Carroll said.
He’ll get no argument from Babineaux. Since joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2004, he had been a part-time starter at cornerback (four games in 2005) and strong safety (eight games in 2006) before stepping in at free safety last season. But most of his impact plays – those that earned him the nickname “Big Play Babs” – came while lining up closer to the line of scrimmage as the third corner responsible for covering the slot receiver in the nickel defense.
Now, with the arrival of Thomas and his coverage skills, Babineaux will be back playing closer to the action.
“You name it, I’ve played it,” Babineaux said. “But for me, my reasoning for having the success that I’ve had has been the ability to line up in a position to be a playmaker. This puts me closer to ball, almost at linebacker depth.”
Speaking of linebackers, the Seahawks also drafted a safety with linebacker size – 6-foot-3, 232-pound Kam Chancellor in the fifth round. This guy emphasizes the strong in strong safety.
“When Kam walked in I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” Babineaux said. “He’s the physical specimen that you dream of.”
Babineaux reached out to Thomas and Chancellor during the just-concluded minicamp. Believe it or not, in his seventh season, Babineaux is one of the senior members of the secondary – along with cornerback Marcus Trufant, a first-round draft choice in 2003; and safety Lawyer Milloy, a 15th-year vet who just re-signed with the team for a second season Friday.
“I sat down with Kam and Earl during lunch and we just went through some of the calls and some of the checks,” Babineaux said. “Just to give them some things to start thinking about, because at that first minicamp they get a lot of information thrown at them in a short amount of time.
“When I was a rookie, I had (then-defensive coordinator) Ray Rhodes do that for me. So it doesn’t matter if a guy is competing for my position. We just need to be better. So I feel like it’s my responsibility to help bring the young guys along and make sure they understand the defense. For us to have success, they need to have success.”
There was a connection between Thomas and Babineaux even before they met. Thomas comes from Orange, Texas, which is the proverbial stone’s throw from Port Arthur, where Babineaux grew up.
“To me, Earl is from home,” Babineaux said. “And that’s important where we come from.”
In fact, the first of his new teammates to contact Thomas was Babineaux.
“He texted me last night and welcomed me with open arms,” Thomas said during his introductory news conference. “I’m just glad to be a part of this organization.”
The player whose position he is taking shares that sentiment.
“Earl is the kind of player that you can pretty much plug in wherever,” Babineaux said. “I had a chance to watch some of his highlights coming out of Texas and was able to see what he’s capable of doing.”
Babineaux then got an up-close look at the minicamp. Babineaux’s in-the-flesh assessment?
“I think Earl will fit in well with the group,” Babineaux. “He’s going to be a great addition.”
Thomas has the range needed by a free safety, but also the coverage skills to matchup against a slot receiver. It’s a combination that could allow the Seahawks to be more versatile by remaining in their base defense when the opposition goes to three wide receivers.
“Earl reminds me of me when I got here,” Babineaux said, and the added with a laugh, “Except that I wasn’t a first-round draft pick.”