RENTON — The short shorts were back Tuesday at the VMAC.
So were the flowing locks partially obscuring the jersey No. 82.
Only, this time, the hair was blondish — Luke Willson had dyed his hair since the last time he was with the Seahawks in January.
“We talked about the tips,” coach Pete Carroll said after practice. “(Nick) Bellore said he might go that way, too, so it might be a trend, I don’t know.”
Willson has set trends before, as the short shorts — introduced in 2017 when Willson spearheaded the idea of the techno theme for Thursday practices — reminded everyone.
But while much is made of what Willson brings to the locker room and elsewhere, his return is mostly about what he can do on the field — add depth to a tight end position that has been dealt some injuries of late.
Most notable, second-year player Colby Parkinson suffered a broken foot in practice the week before the preseason opener against the Raiders. Parkinson had emerged as the clear No. 3 tight end behind Gerald Everett and Will Dissly.
But it remains unclear when Parkinson will return. And in his absence none of the other tight ends had done anything to indicate they could step into that role — even temporarily.
Willson officially signed his contract before Tuesday afternoon’s practice, giving Seattle six tight ends with Cam Sutton and Tyler Mabry along with Dissly, Everett and Parkinson.
Mabry, though, has also had a foot injury and has yet to play in the preseason, though he did return to practice Tuesday. On Sunday, Seattle cut Dom Wood-Anderson, who shared the tight end snaps and had four penalties in Saturday’s 30-3 loss to the Broncos.
Because Willson is a vested vet (meaning, he has more than four accrued seasons), he would not be subject to waivers. And that means Seattle could keep Parkinson on the initial 53-man roster, even if he might not be ready for the regular season, and then put him on injured reserve and bring him back as soon as three weeks. Willson, meanwhile, could be cut but then re-signed a day or two later without the team having to worry he would be claimed. He could then fill in for Parkinson to open the season, if needed.
While Seattle will want Willson to help fill out tight end snaps Saturday against the Chargers, Carroll admitted that Parkinson’s uncertain status for the regular season played a role in bringing back Willson.
“We’re not sure what’s going to happen with Colby,” Carroll said. “… He had a real slight fracture that wasn’t displaced in any way and all of that. And so it’s something that just up to how he can handle it. And so he has a chance (to be ready for the regular season), and he’s very optimistic about it. But we won’t know for a while. We won’t even try to figure that out for another two weeks.”
Carroll also made clear the team wasn’t bringing Willson back to fill that potential role just because he’s a popular guy in the locker room.
Carroll noted that Willson is in good shape and appears a little slimmed down from last year. He was immediately thrown into regular duty in practice, catching a TD pass in a red zone drill and also playing on special teams such as the field goal team.
“He looked fine,” Carroll said. “He’s been working really hard. He’s real trim and ran well. Caught a few balls. Did a nice job today.”
This is Willson’s fourth stint with the Seahawks. He was a regular in the tight end rotation from 2013-17 and played every game in 2013 as a rookie when Seattle won the Super Bowl after being taken in the fifth round out of Rice.
He returned in 2019 after the trade of Nick Vannett to fill out the depth the rest of the season then made the team again in 2020 out of training camp before being released when Parkinson returned.
But Carroll so reveres Willson that he brought him back for the playoffs after Willson had been cut by Baltimore, in large part because of his locker room presence (he was inactive for the wild-card loss to the Rams).
“I think it’s real important,” Carroll said. “It sure is important in our program. We’re trying to live on the high end of this thing and keep the spirit up and keep the energy high. Expectations are really high to do that. And it takes leadership and participation, and certain people just have more juice than others, you know, and Luke has always been a great part of that for us. And he’s just one of my favorites that we’ve had in the program over the years.”
Willson wasn’t made available to the media Tuesday, but he announced his presence throughout Tuesday’s practice, getting a few teammates involved in the jumping fist-raising that is a regular fixture of “Techno Thursday” when a techno song blared early on.
“It’s good to have someone like Luke back,” defensive end Rasheem Green said. “He’s a cool guy.”