Jalen Thompson's first season has been a whirlwind, and even more of one than most rookies.
The safety originally expected to spend 2019 in college at Washington State, and by the time he entered the supplemental draft and was chosen in the fifth round by the Cardinals, he had missed out on all the offseason practices and workouts and meetings, reporting not until the eve of training camp.
"I've only been here five months," Thompson said. "It's weird. But I'm over the college thing. It's all business now."
The business has been about starting games. When the season began, veteran D.J. Swearinger was at strong safety. When Swearinger was released four games into the season, it was Thompson – and not the safety drafted in the fifth round of April's regular draft, Deionte Thompson – who emerged as the starter alongside Pro Bowler Budda Baker.
In the 10 games since Swearinger's release, Jalen Thompson has started eight – with Deionte getting one and Byron Murphy essentially starting at safety in the other.
Jalen Thompson has shown the growing pains expected of a fifth-round pick in the supplemental draft, missing on some assignments and working through the communication issues the secondary has had as a whole. He was caught with a pass interference call in Tampa, eventually leading to the Buccaneers' winning score. But he's also found ways to make plays – a crucial late diving interception in San Francisco, a fumble recovery and return against Cleveland.
"We've got a bunch of rookies that are playing that you would've hoped would be backup players and would've eased into playing," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "But Jalen … he's finally kind of getting the scheme. It's an NFL scheme and it takes time to learn. But when you watch him play, he's got some Budda traits. He plays hard, he can tackle, he's all over the field. With time, and obviously with coaching, he's also going to be a great player for us."
Deionte Thompson has been inactive the past two games. Joseph said he needs to work on his body and gain weight, but can develop not only as a safety but as a dime linebacker in coverage.
"He's the one safety in the room that has the length to cover the tight ends in this division," Joseph said.
Jalen Thompson also said he wants to build his frame in the offseason – an NFL offseason he has yet to go through. But he also said he isn't surprised he has found his way into the starting lineup in such a short time.
"I feel like I'm playing fast," he said. "If I can play as fast as Budda is playing in the game, we're going to be OK."
PUGH, KIRK QUESTIONABLE FOR SUNDAY
Guard Justin Pugh (back) and wide receiver Christian Kirk (ankle) will be game-day decisions, coach Kliff Kingsbury said. If Pugh can't go, Mason Cole – who has gotten snaps at both guard spots in the last two games with Pugh and J.R. Sweezy banged up – would get the start. Defensive lineman Caraun Reid (knee) is also questionable.
For the Seahawks, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (core) and safety Quandre Diggs (ankle) are doubtful. Cornerback Shaquill Griffin (hamstring), linebacker Mychal Kendricks (hamstring) and tackle Duane Brown (biceps/knee) are questionable.
KEEPING UP THE RUNNING GAME
The Cardinals have had their best success in Seattle over the recent years when a running game has appeared, mitigating the impact a loud crowd, or weather, can have on a passing game.
Sunday, the ability to run will be "pretty much everything," Kingsbury said. "The first (meeting), Kyler (Murray) threw the pick-6 early and we were down the entire game. Trying to throw it against that rush, you play into their hands. We've got to stay out of that."
The Cardinals lost at State Farm Stadium, 27-10, in September. The Cardinals ran for an identical 115 yards as the Seahawks, and their running game is better right now. The Cardinals ran for 226 yards against the Browns, and the Seahawks are going to be without defensive tackle Al Woods (suspension) and likely Clowney on the defensive line.
Images from practice at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center