SEATTLE -- One of the most encouraging signs for the Seattle Seahawks as the regular season approaches is that All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas looks like he's all the way back following a broken leg that cut his 2016 season short.
If you ask middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, Thomas actually looks better.
"I think last week I said he came back even stronger than he was before in my opinion," Wagner said, "which is scary."
Wagner reiterated that assessment Friday night following the Seahawks' 26-13 win against the Kansas City Chiefs. Thomas' play has stood out all preseason but it was even more apparent in the Week 3 preseason game. Particularly noticeable was his speed, decisiveness and willingness to throw his body around, which shows he's not any slower or at all hesitant coming off his injury.
The Seahawks saw for the first time last season what life is like without Thomas roaming the back end of their defense, where his range, instincts and playmaking ability have been key to limiting big plays. Seattle's passing defense wasn't the same after he went down temporarily in Week 11 with a hamstring injury and then for the rest of the season in Week 13, when he broke his tibia. The Seahawks allowed 5.96 yards per dropback, 7.01 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 77.8 with Thomas on the field last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Without him, those numbers were 6.76 yards per dropback, 7.77 YPA and 100.3 passer rating.
All of that provided statistical proof of what was always understood: Thomas is an essential piece of Seattle's defense.
That's why it's so significant that he appears to be back to form. Thomas was limited over the offseason program while rehabbing but has looked full speed since early in training camp. He made one of his signature plays on the first defensive series of Seattle's preseason opener against the Los Angeles Chargers when he raced halfway across the field to defend a deep ball down the sideline. The next week, he delivered a big hit on Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs after reading quarterback Sam Bradford and trusting his instincts.
"I'm very locked in," Thomas said Friday night after recording four tackles on 39 defensive snaps.
This was not the case two years ago. Thomas was coming off surgery to repair a shoulder injury he suffered in the NFC Championship Game, and when the Seahawks opened the 2015 season against the Rams in St. Louis, he felt off.
"I was very hesitant and that kind of affected my whole game," he recalled. "I didn't play like myself. I played timid. I didn't really give help where I needed to. I just was out of rhythm.
"I think it was just my first time going through it. You learn from situations like that. That's why when this injury happened to my leg, I was prepared because I had been there before and I remember how it felt and [how I] thought back then. It's helping me right now."