The Seattle Seahawks made the puzzling decision to put All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas back to return punts in the preseason and put the Defensive Player of the Year candidate at a greater risk of injury.
However, after a successful audition through the preseason, head coach Pete Carroll announced on Monday that Thomas earned the job and will be the team’s punt returner when the regular season begins on Thursday against the Green Bay Packers.
Thomas has never returned punts in his NFL career and only returned four punts for 58 yards in college during his time with the Texas Longhorns, but he did have a 59-yard punt return in the team’s third preseason game against the Chicago Bears.
There is little argument that Thomas is the best safety in the league and his range in the defensive backfield makes him one of the most important players in the NFL on the league’s best defense, but the additional role he plays this year opens him up to injury and Carroll up to criticism.
Should Thomas get banged up returning a punt and has to miss any time as safety, Carroll is going to be chastised for not finding an experienced punt returner in free agency, the draft or on the waiver wire and subject the best player at his position to additional wear and tear.
However, if it works out and Thomas looks like Devin Hester, it is just the latest stroke of genius for the Super Bowl winning head coach.
Golden Tate was the team’s primary punt returner but signed a free agent deal with the Detroit Lions this offseason.