RENTON — Chris Cutcliffe chuckles at the memory now. Of course, Cutcliffe had known about D.K. Metcalf for a while, but he didn’t know exactly what to expect when the eighth-grade wide receiver turned out for a spring workout with the Oxford (Miss.) High School football team.
Cutcliffe had just returned to his alma mater to join the Oxford coaching staff as the wide receivers coach, and you’d better believe that first look at the young Metcalf left a lasting impression.
“He had gotten so tall so quick. He was in that gangly, baby-giraffe stage,” Cutcliffe said. “But watching him then, you knew the athleticism was there from a very early age.”
Fast forward to another spring workout — Friday’s first rookie minicamp practice at the Seahawks’ facility in Renton — and there was Metcalf again making an impression on another new coach.
Pete Carroll was asked what about Metcalf’s potential excited him.
“Well,” the Seahawks coach said, “it’s almost like what doesn’t, you know? I mean, he’s big and he’s fast. He’s got really good feet, you know, and his catching range was exhibited today for a start.”
Carroll added that Metcalf “may be even more unique than we thought” when the Seahawks drafted the 6-foot-4, 229-pound former Ole Miss receiver in the second round.
“You know,” Carroll said, “there’s never been a guy that ran any faster that was that big and strong at the combine. So he’s got all those things behind him. Now he’s got to go fight and figure out how to play football.”
Cutcliffe doesn’t doubt Metcalf’s fight.
“I have no doubt in my mind that he will be everything they want him to be there,” Cutcliffe said.
Cutcliffe was Metcalf’s position coach for four years at Oxford High, and then became the head coach after Metcalf graduated.
Cutcliffe’s dad is David Cutcliffe, the current head coach at Duke and the head coach at Ole Miss in Oxford from 1998 to 2004 — when Metcalf’s father, Terrence, was an All-American offensive lineman for the Rebels.
Terrence Metcalf played for the Chicago Bears for seven seasons, and D.K. grew up in and around those NFL locker rooms.
Dad’s advice as his son entered the Seahawks’ locker room for the first time this week?
“Just continue to work. No matter what anybody says, just continue to work and be me,” D.K. Metcalf said Saturday.
Cutcliffe said that work ethic is what separated the receiver at Oxford High. A three-sport athlete, Metcalf also starred in basketball and track in field — setting school records in the triple jump and 110-meter high hurdles.
“He wanted to be great. He wanted to be coached. He wanted to perfect every small aspect of the game he could,” Cutcliffe said. “He was a phenomenal blocker as a wide receiver, and he played with pride in that. There were a lot of little things like that that a lot of guys of his talent level wouldn’t do.”
That Metcalf slipped out of the first round, and all the way to the No. 64 overall pick, might have been a reaction to his injury history at Ole Miss. He broke a bone in his foot during the second game of his freshman season in 2016, then suffered a season-ending neck injury that required surgery in October 2018.
On Saturday, Metcalf said the neck issue was “a freak injury and it could happen to anybody at any point in time. I’m fully healed and ready to go.”
Some have also been critical of Metcalf’s route-running at Ole Miss, noting he mostly ran simple deep routes to take advantage of his size — routes that surely won’t work as well against NFL defensive backs.
Metcalf said he was capable of doing more complicated routes, and did do them in practice, but those types of plays weren’t called in games.
In the buildup to the NFL scouting combine, Metcalf spent time in Phoenix working with Jerry Sullivan, the 74-year-old receivers coach who has been described as the Mr. Miyagi of route-running. Sullivan has over the years worked with Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, among others.
“One of the great receiver coaches in the history of the NFL,” Carroll called Sullivan.
From Sullivan, Metcalf learned better body posture techniques and how to better break out of his routes.
The goal, Metcalf said, is to “make every route look the same when you come off the ball.”
Metcalf, playing split end, made several highlight catches Friday.
He slipped coming out of a comeback route but from his knees managed to lunge back and make a catch. A few minutes later, in nearly the same spot along the right sideline, he leaped high above a defensive back to haul in the catch of the day.
“The guy is a freak,” said safety Ugo Amadi, the Seahawks’ fourth-round pick out of Oregon who also competed against Metcalf in high-school summer camps.
With Doug Baldwin’s uncertain future and limited experience outside of Tyler Lockett, the wide receiver position is in flux for the Seahawks. But at least one of his new coaches came to an important realization after seeing Metcalf in a Seahawks jersey for the first time.
“Yeah,” Carroll said, “he looks like he’s ready to compete.”