Jermaine Kearse says he's confident of a rebound in 2017.
Newly a father, receiver Jermaine Kearse is also suddenly one of the old guys in Seahawks’ training camp.
Now entering his sixth season, the former Lakes High and UW standout has been with the Seahawks longer than all but seven other players on the team’s current 90-man roster.
It’s a career that has seen Kearse experience the highest of highs — notably two game-winning catches in back-to-back NFC Championships that sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.
And if Kearse hasn’t quite experienced the lowest of lows — he still has a job for a team that has won at least 10 games every season he’s been in the NFL — he has at the least felt what it’s like to be the focal point of criticism when things have gone awry.
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As the Seattle offense staggered last season under the weight of injuries to Russell Wilson and a struggling offensive line, the collective finger of blame from the fan base was often pointed at Kearse, as well.
In a stat often cited to symbolize the team’s offensive woes in a season in which the Seahawks ranked 25th in the NFL in scoring touchdowns in the red zone, Kearse was targeted by Wilson inside the 10-yard-line more often than any other Seattle receiver — 11 — while scoring just one touchdown.
Kearse also was called for six offensive pass interference penalties, with five accepted, second-most of any player in the NFL during a season in which he his receptions fell to 41 from a career-high 49 the year before and a per-catch average of 12.4 yards, a yard-and-a-half below his career average.
Never mind that had Wilson’s pass to Kearse been just a touch shorter on the final play in New Orleans he might have been the hero of a game that would have meant the difference between having a first-round bye and not — Kearse caught the pass but his foot was out of the back of the end zone by just a step.
Or that Wilson’s injuries and the lack of a running game helped result in a passing game that all around was simply less efficient than it had been in 2015. Or that Wilson’s injuries also often prevented him from making the type of scramble drill passes on which he has often found Kearse for big plays, the type that are one reason coach Pete Carroll has said the two have “a great chemistry.’’
To many observers, Kearse was simply having a bad year and that was that.
And while Kearse said he did what he could to shield himself from the criticism “I knew it was there. I didn’t read any of that because it would drive me crazy. But it’s going to be there. What I started to learn is that they love you when you are up and they hate you when you are down.’’
The thing is, Kearse agrees he could have played better.
“I think Jermaine’s standards in his head and everyone else’s in his head, I think are super high,’’ Wilson said. “He believes in himself. Last year, he felt like he didn’t have as great of a season as he normally has.’’
Asked what happened, Kearse says “I think just mentally it was different. … it has its reasons. I don’t want to get into it, but there were its reasons.’’
One that he dispels is that the pressure of living up to a new contract — he signed a three-year deal worth $13.5 million in the spring of 2016, life-changing money for a player who entered the league as an undrafted free agent – was a factor.
“No,’’ he says simply when that theory is raised.
That contract, though, led many to wonder if Kearse could be a salary cap casualty heading into the 2017 season, conjecture that increased when the team drafted Amara Darboh out of Michigan in the third round (though it’s worth noting the team would save only $367,000 by releasing him).
But as Kearse notes “they’ve drafted receivers every year I’ve been here. So that’s nothing new to me.’’
Carroll, though, said earlier this week “he knows that we picked up a couple guys (David Moore was also drafted in the seven). He knows he has to compete.’’
Then Carroll added that Kearse is doing just that. While Paul Richardson has commonly worked with Doug Baldwin as the starters in two-receiver sets, Kearse has usually been a starter in three-receiver sets (with Tyler Lockett still working his way back from injury).
Monday in the team’s mock game, it was Kearse who scored the first touchdown on a twisting 20-yard catch of a pass from Wilson thrown slightly behind him.
“Jermaine has really shown that this training camp, of who he is and who we believe he is,’’ Wilson said.
One area that still stumps him a little, though, are the OPIs. A few were called on pick plays, when Kearse was attempting to shield a defender to create room for a teammate, a common tactic.
Kearse he’s reviewed the films again and doesn’t think he did much wrong.
“Me personally I really think all of those OPIs were honestly not good calls,’’ he said. “If you look at the tape I’ve definitely seen a lot worse. I do feel like I was targeted just because of some of the plays that I am a part of and what my job is. But at the end of the day I can just clean up my stuff and just get better.’’
It doesn’t hurt that at the real end of his days he now gets to go home to daughter Rylee Rae, born in June to wife Marisa. Kearse describes his daugher as “very chill and mellow” and a good sleeper.
“It does change your perspective a little bit,’’ said Kearse of fatherhood. “It kind of makes you take a step back.’’
All of which has Kearse concluding that the mentality that was just a little off last season is now back in its proper place.
“I’ve moved on from last year,’’ he said. “I like where I’m at and I like where I’m headed.’’