A couple of weeks ago, before the Seattle Seahawks’ win in Atlanta, Earl Thomas gave the pregame speech that became the prologue to probably the Hawks’ most complete performance since their win over San Francisco in Week Two.
When Earl Thomas walks into the room, he changes the energy. He doesn’t merely light up the place, he sets it on fire. Thomas is a cruise missile. His message is his payload.
So it was no surprise a couple of weeks ago, before the Seattle Seahawks’ win in Atlanta that Thomas gave the pregame speech that became the prologue to probably the Hawks’ most complete performance since their win over San Francisco in Week Two.
“Think about who you have success with in practice,” Thomas told his teammates in a pregame huddle. “Think about who you go to battle with every day in practice. Think about who you have success with on the field. Look around. These are the guys you see ball-out every day. They see you do what you do. Let’s take that practice mentality to the field.
Thomas saw a problem and he wasn’t going to let it fester.
“The biggest thing about our defense was that one person was making too many tackles,” he said in the locker room before a recent practice. “We’re strong when everybody is around the ball, when we’re making it hard on the ball carrier, suffocating him. That’s how we were playing earlier in the year and that’s what we got back to in Atlanta. When we’re playing like that, it’s going to take us where we want to be.
“When people start playing for each other it elevates the whole team. You’re playing for your brother and if you do your preparation, good things start happening. When you’re playing for your brothers successful ball will start to come no matter what. Tip balls start coming your way. You start making plays that you didn’t know you could make.”
Before the game in Atlanta, just as he is in every practice and team meeting and film session, Thomas was as direct as a straight right hand. He’s always the buzz in the room, a hummingbird who hits; a compact, dynamic, 5-foot-10, 202-pound hummingbird.
He has made himself into one of the best free safeties in football and, now in his fourth season, was the consensus defensive MVP for 2013’s first half. And, just as important, he’s a made himself into a leader.
“Leaders aren’t born to be, ‘Look at me. Look at me,’” Thomas said. “They have to do the dirty work and then they have to listen. You have to know your worth. You have to know how valuable you are to your team. Coach can’t point it out to you. One thing to know about me, I’m going to practice hard every time. I’m going to be the most intense person. I’m going to be into it like it’s always a game situation because then it always transitions over to the game.
“That’s what people don’t understand. In our walk-throughs I’m in a posture like it’s game time. I’m getting my body language right, because it’s always about the little details. Your opportunities are so short in this league and you want to impact every person that you come across. When you’re out here you’ve got to enjoy all of it. It’s got to be about having fun, enjoying your teammates and enjoying the process. I do that.”
Thomas talks fast, like he has places to go and even more people to influence. But listen to him, there’s a wallop in his words.
In 2010, when he was a rookie, Thomas did a lot of chattering on the field. Even in practice some of his give-and-take shout-outs with teammate T.J. Houshmandzadeh were like a 21st Century adaptation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Thomas had a way of getting under the skin of even his own receivers.
But off the field he was quiet and uncertain of himself. He was a reluctant interviewee and it was hard work getting him to say how he really felt. He wasn’t comfortable speaking in front of crowds, or in front of teammates.
Thomas knew he had to get better. He had to become a leader, in the locker room and the film room, as much as he needed to lead on the field. And now, when he walks into a room, he changes the environment.
“It’s crazy how much I’ve come out of my box,” Thomas said. “My teammates have noticed. This stuff’s always been inside of me, but I’d never taken the time to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Ok, I need to get better.’ The way I feel is, you can’t stand still. You have to have a vision of yourself, of what you want to be and then you have to work toward that vision. I’m working for the vision. Always.”