RENTON — Tharold Simon recognized his questioner. He recognized the subject: his latest — and last — chance to win a Seahawks job.
He also recognized the hallway just inside the back field door of team headquarters in which he was about to talk. And he shuddered.
A year ago this month, the star-crossed cornerback was in the same hallway talking about returning from offseason shoulder surgery. A week later, just before the 2015 opener at St. Louis, Simon got yet another toe injury. He’s had those flare up since he was in middle school.
“Naw, I’m not talking in this hallway!” Simon said Thursday following Seattle’s latest training-camp practice.
“Last time I talked to you in this hallway, I got hurt again. Let’s go outside.”
Change of scenery? Change of fortune? Something has to change for Simon to finally stick as a Seahawk.
“I feel pretty good — wonderful, to be honest,” Simon said. “Blessed that I’m healthy and ready to roll.
“This is the first time that I’ve felt that confidence, that ‘Let’s GO!’
“I feel like I can stop anybody that’s in front of me.”
This is the fourth and final year of the contract the 25-year-old signed as Seattle’s fifth-round draft choice in 2013. At 6 feet 3 and 202 pounds, he has the height, length and aggressiveness on the ball that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Kris Richard covet in their cover guys.
Can Simon finally fulfill his team’s expectations? Can he earn not only a job this season, but then perhaps a second, more lucrative contract than his rookie deal paying him $675,000 this year?
“He is off to a great start. This is the best he has been,” Carroll said. “He has had problems with his feet for years, and he has never been able to get it right and it has kind of caused something else to happen.
“He feels great. He is in great shape. Technique-wise, he is having a terrific camp and he continues to keep winning, and so it just makes us stronger. It makes the competition at that spot for playing time real, so he’s doing a great job.”
But through 11 practices of training camp, it’s been DeShawn Shead as the starting right cornerback consistently opposite Richard Sherman. Simon has been relegated to No. 2 left cornerback, Sherman’s backup.
The coaches and teammates trust Shead. He’s excelled in every role thrust upon him in his first four Seahawks seasons: free safety, starting strong safety, starting cornerback and as a selfless special-teams ace. He’s been impressively banging receivers such as Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin at the line of scrimmage and running with the fastest Seahawks across the middle, as he did with Paul Richardson for tight coverage in Thursday’s scrimmaging.
The Seahawks don’t know yet if they can trust Simon. And if they can’t soon, they never will.
Simon’s task this month is as simple as it’s been elusive: stay on the field. His coaches and teammates are trying to determine in four preseason games, including Saturday’s first one at Kansas City, if they can trust him to first merely be available from game to game. Then, if he can stay on the field, to keep a level head there.
He sounds as if he knows the stakes.
“These are serious games for me,” Simon said.
Multiple foot injuries in 2013 resulted in his rookie season ending early on injured reserve. He got a chance to play in 2014 — but he committed bonehead penalties at awful times.
In October of that season at St. Louis, Simon banged into Rams receiver Brian Quick before the ball arrived on a third-and-4. The 16-yard penalty extended St. Louis’ drive.
A few plays later, Simon grabbed an opponent’s face mask while teammate K.J. Wright was completing a tackle for a loss that would have forced the Rams into third-and-25. Simon’s penalty gave St. Louis a first down at the Seattle 12 instead. The Rams scored their second touchdown to take a 14-3 lead in their eventual 28-26, upset victory.
For all the errors the Seahawks made that day, they could have won had Simon not been so grabby and had they held St. Louis to a field goal on that drive.
In the playoffs of January 2015, Carolina’s Cam Newton targeted Simon for two touchdown passes, but Seattle overcame those to win. Simon played that game with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Of course he did.
Three weeks later, nickel back Jeremy Lane broke his arm and shredded his knee early in Super Bowl 49. Then-starting cornerback Byron Maxwell went inside to nickel, and an ailing Simon took Maxwell’s right cornerback spot. That was because Seattle decisively had left Marcus Burley, the backup nickel who had played there at the start of the 2014 season, on the inactive list before the game.
Tom Brady and New England targeted Simon immediately upon his entrance. Brady threw two touchdown passes against Simon as the Patriots rallied from two scores down in the fourth quarter to win the NFL title.
Last summer, in that same hallway of team headquarters, Simon talked about being past his shoulder surgery that caused him to miss the first two preseason games of 2015. He talked of “trying to compete for a starting job.” Then, that balky, bony bump on his big toe resurfaced.
What’s up with all his foot injuries, anyway?
“I had two bunion surgeries, one in the seventh grade and one in the eighth grade,” he said. “And it was good all the way up to my junior year in college. That’s when the problems started happening some more.”
He eventually went on injured reserve for the second time in his three NFL seasons last October. Another year lost.
He does maintenance exercises and therapy for his feet now, and at times they get sore. But there are no more years left for him to waste in Seattle. That’s why he posted on social media before training camp started two weeks ago: “It’s my time.”
“I mean, I’ve been feeling that way since I stepped on the scene. I just haven’t had the opportunity,” Simon said.
“My confidence is out of this world right now. I’m just ready to play some ball. That’s it.
“It’s been a long time coming.”