On embracing Troy Polamalu comparisons

San Francisco 49ers receiver Ted Ginn Jr. pulled away from all but one man during his 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown Sunday.

Earl Thomas, second-year safety for the Seattle Seahawks, was that man. He had to maneuver around kicker Steven Hauschka along the sideline before hitting stride, and when he did, Thomas kept pace the rest of the way. He wasn't going to catch Ginn, who ranks among the very fastest players in the NFL. But neither was Ginn running away from him.

That type of speed separates Thomas from most safeties. It's one of the qualities that led Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to say Thomas could be on his way to very special things in the NFL. In fact, instead of rejecting as premature comparisons between Thomas and Pittsburgh Steelers great Troy Polamalu, Carroll embraced them. That is telling.

"Boy, there are some tremendous similarities," said Carroll, who coached Polamalu at USC. "One guy's just proven it over a long period of time and he’s a great player. Earl, he’s emerging."

Polamalu, 30, is a six-time Pro Bowl choice. He'll be chasing down Thomas' teammates when Seattle visits Pittsburgh in Week 2.

"What Troy is so famous for is just these knifing, rocketing drives to make a tackle or to make a play on the football and the willingness to take a chance and go for it," Carroll said. "Both these guys are like that. If Earl could be so lucky somewhere down the road, six or eight years from now …"

Carroll pointed to their size, speed, toughness, and instincts as similar. Both are 5-foot-10. Polamalu is listed at 215, Thomas at 202. The first time I saw Thomas in person, I thought he looked like a cornerback. He also happened to be in the company of massive left tackle Russell Okung at the time, which probably added to the perception.

Thomas had five interceptions as a rookie last season. After watching him collect eight tackles, two for losses, and contesting multiple other plays in the Seahawks' opener at San Francisco, I probably was remiss in not featuring him more prominently among players Seattle could least afford to lose.

"We really want to do similar things (with Thomas) like we did with Troy back in college because of their nature and the style of play that they offer you," Carroll said. "It’s a good model for him to follow."