RENTON – When Seahawks special teams coach Brian Schneider looks at Jermaine Kearse, position designation goes out the window. “I don’t even think of him as a receiver,’’ said Schneider. “To me he’s just a big, physical, athletic guy.’’
So it was, then, that Schneider devised a punt-block scheme Sunday at Indianapolis that had the 6-foot-1, 209-pound Kearse lined up over center.
On the play, which Schneider refers to as “eight box” because it brings in outside rushers to instead attack from the middle, Kearse and safety Jeron Johnson crisscrossed in a twist, with Kearse then shedding past long snapper Matt Overton in time to block the attempt of punter Pat McAfee.
That it worked as perfectly as he could have drawn it up was no surprise to Schneider.
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“He’s just so trustworthy,” Schneider said of Kearse. “We have a lot of guys who go in there, but he does what you ask him to do and he just exploded through there and made a great play.”
The only disappointment was that Johnson — in the eyes of the officials, anyway — couldn’t recover the ball in time for it to be ruled a touchdown, and Seattle was instead awarded a safety.
Kearse, though, sent another loud reminder a few minutes later that he is, in fact, a receiver when he made a leaping grab of a Russell Wilson pass for a 28-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
It was his second touchdown on four receptions this season and gave further validation of his somewhat unlikely rise from undrafted free agent to key member of Seattle’s receiving rotation.
In fact, after the team’s release of Stephen Williams last weekend, Kearse is one of just four receivers on the team rosters.
That will change in a few weeks when Percy Harvin gets healthy. For now, though, it means Kearse figures to get even more opportunities.
And that’s just fine with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who says Kearse has earned the chance to step into a brighter spotlight.
“We have just growing confidence in him,” Carroll said this week. “We need more opportunities to him because he’s done everything well. He’s been a fantastic kind of addition and spirit on our special teams (and) his competitiveness and his toughness gets carried over into everything that he is doing.”
Carroll thought that competitiveness and toughness might be there when the Seahawks signed Kearse as a free agent after he went undrafted in 2012 — even if Carroll thought it might take some mining to get it out of him.
Carroll had seen the potential firsthand during Kearse’s UW days. It was two catches by Kearse that keyed a drive leading to the game-winning field goal in the Huskies’ 16-13 upset of a Carroll-coached USC team ranked No. 3 in the nation in 2009.
Carroll, though, also had some of the same thoughts as UW fans through the next few years after he became the coach of the Seahawks and viewed the Huskies — coached by his former offensive coordinator at USC, Steve Sarkisian — through a different lens. While Kearse finished his UW career with 180 catches, second-most in Husky history, he carried with him a reputation — fair or not — for dropping a few too many.
“I watched Steve Sarkisian’s team a lot and I knew Jermaine, kind of his style of play and all, and I always thought that he was better than what showed,” Carroll said. “I always thought that he had more potential than what showed because he could always make terrific plays, and then I thought some plays got away from him. And when he came in here, I was excited to see what he would do because I had a sense for his potential. But I was kind of on his butt, to tell you the truth, because plays got away from him.”
Kearse laughed this week when reminded of Carroll’s early tough love.
“Pete was kind of on me from the beginning, him and his ties with Sark,” Kearse said. “He used to be on me kind of tough even when I would catch the ball, just to finish the extra 10 yards and stuff like that. But those are the types of things you want as a player. You want coaches to try to continue to push you and get the best out of you.”
Kearse did enough last year to make the team, initially on the practice squad, then on the active roster for the final eight games and playoffs.
Kearse then used some of his new money to have laser-eye surgery in the offseason. Kearse, while saying he sees the ball better now when it comes out of traffic, says the surgery isn’t solely to credit for his rise.
Even Carroll, though, says the difference can’t be ignored.
“I think when he got his eyes fixed, it really helped him,’’ Carroll said.
Now, it’s Carroll who hopes to get a better look at Kearse.
“We need to get him the football a little bit more,’’ Carroll said. “We’re going to continue to expect that he’ll be more of a factor. He’s earned that.”
|The corps of four: Seattle’s wide receiver stats through five games|
|Golden Tate||239||18||236||1||13 catches in last three games|
|Doug Baldwin||218||17||296||1||8 catches on 3rd down, tied for 7th in NFL|
|Sidney Rice||218||10||146||2||5 catches, 79 yards against Jacksonville|
|Jermaine Kearse||116||4||94||2||43-yard TD vs. Carolina is Seattle’s longest scoring play this year|