Bracing himself for the best

Rookie cornerback Walter Thurmond has not let the serious knee injury that ended his career at Oregon last season interfere with his plans to have a NFL career with the Seahawks.

At one point during a recent practice, Walter Thurmond stopped in almost midstride, reached down and slapped at the brace encasing his right knee.

It’s a needed memento from the surgery to repair three torn ligaments that ended his senior season at the University of Oregon last September. A second look also is needed to fathom how the rookie cornerback can be playing so well – or just playing, period – coming off such a severe injury.

That’s the good news/bad news aspect to damaging the anterior cruciate, medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments so early in the Ducks’ season.

“It works both ways,” Thurmond said after a practice this week, as the Seahawks were preparing for Saturday night’s third preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome.

“It was a blessing that I got hurt early in the season, as opposed to late in the season where I’d still be rehabbing it now. But it was tough to watch my college team continue to play without me.”

The Seahawks not only liked Thurmond coming out, they feel like they got a first- or second-round talent in the fourth round.

“Honestly, we thought Walter was one of the top handful of corners in the draft,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Had he been healthy, we think he would have had a chance to be a very high draft pick.”

The coaches remain very high on Thurmond, who possesses a nice mix of speed, athleticism and toughness.

“He’s an athletic guy, young, smart,” defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said. “He’s a tough guy. He doesn’t mind getting up there and tackling. It’s all the same stuff we saw him doing at Oregon.

“He’s adapting to what we do.”

Not to mention a new position. While Thurmond is playing with the third unit at cornerback – behind Marcus Trufant and Roy Lewis on the left side – he’s also working as the nickel back with the No. 2 defense. It’s the first time Thurmond has moved inside to cover the slot receiver.

“This is new to me,” Thurmond said. “But I’m picking it up fast. You have to be a lot more patient playing inside than when you’re lined up outside. There are a lot of routes coming your way, and a lot of set-up routes that the offense wants you to jump on to open up a deeper route.

“So you really have to be patient with those.”

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Thurmond displayed his physical side early, knocking the hard-running Quinton Ganther woozy during a collision in the “mock game” at the University of Washington on the second Sunday of training camp.

After the first two preseason games, Thurmond has eight tackles to share the team lead with rookie linebacker/rush-end Dexter Davis.

“Our DB coach at Oregon always said, ‘If you can’t tackle, you won’t be able to play in the secondary,’ ” Thurmond said. “That motivated me to just come out and be physical, and try to be the aggressor.”

He did, however, have to grow into the role since he weighed 170 pounds when he arrived at Oregon out of West Covina (Calif.) High School.

“I had to protect myself early,” he said, “And the only way to do that was to hit first.”

It hasn’t always been as easy as Thurmond is making it look.

“There’s no doubt that there were just some long days of really just sitting around the house, especially early on after the surgery,” Thurmond said. “I just wanted to be back out there with the guys. That’s when it hurt the most, just watching guys play and me being out my senior year.”

Once the rehab process began, Thurmond never looked back. Just ahead.

Has Thurmond surprised his coaches with how quickly he’s rediscovered his game after such a lengthy layoff?

“No. No. No,” Gray said before the question could even be completed. “The thing that good players do, those guys have the will to play.

“He’s a really good player. He could end up being one of the better players in this league, if he keeps working, keeps progressing.”

And how long will Thurmond have to wear the brace on his knee?

“I think it’s part of the season,” he said. “Hopefully it’s not the whole thing. I can’t wait to get this thing off. But I’m moving fine with it on.”