Rookie out of Kansas State can focus on both the defenders and the ball.
RENTON — Something interesting popped out of Tyler Lockett’s mouth last week.
As he explained why it wasn’t scary for an 182-pound player to return punts, Lockett mentioned his uncle and his coaches at Kansas State. And then the Seahawks’ rookie receiver said, “They all taught me how to look sometimes and you can glance down and see where everybody is.”
It called to mind Golden Tate, the Seahawks’ punt returner two seasons ago, who had the rare and coveted skill of locating the ball, glancing down at defenders, then relocating the ball midair and fielding it cleanly. It was such as unique combination that Brian Schneider, the Seahawks’ special-teams coach, said, “If I would try to coach another player to do what Golden does, it wouldn’t be fair. And it wouldn’t be right.”
And now the Seahawks have another returner whose eyes can dance.
Most Read Sports Stories
- Mariners brawl with Angels after being thrown at twice; eight ejected
- Angels deserve most of the blame for brawl with Mariners
- Mariners beat Angels again, run winning streak to season-high five games
- What it means for UW men's basketball that Seattle's three NBA first-rounders played elsewhere
- Offensive tackle Elishah Jackett and defensive lineman Sua Lefotu join long line of new UW football commits
The Seahawks considered Lockett the best return man in the draft, and to get him coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider did something they had done only once before: trade picks to move up, then selected him in the third round.
On the night the Seahawks drafted Lockett, Carroll proclaimed, “I would imagine he catches the first kickoff of the season.” Same goes for the first punt of the season.
Lockett was diplomatic. “I have to be able to live up to that,” he said. But it’s clear the return jobs are his to lose.
The ability to peek — to look down and scan the field and still relocate the ball — didn’t come naturally.
Lockett returned kickoffs all four years at Kansas State, but he returned punts only his senior season.
A kickoff returner has enough time to make decisions after catching the ball. A punt returner has to not only gain info from watching the ball — the spin or rotation tells a lot about distance and angles — but also scan defenders charging toward him.
“The first several times we started doing that,” said Sean Snyder, Kansas State’s special-teams coordinator, “he was losing the ball.”
By the start of the season, Snyder said, Lockett “was able to peek, maybe even get a second peek, still get in good position to catch the ball and make a maneuver when he’s got a guy 2 yards in front of him. Now we’re not fair-catching the ball.”
The Seahawks hope Lockett brings the ingredient they went without last season: a game-altering returner who can swing field position and momentum.
Carroll said “it was so obvious” that was an area the team needed to improve, and in Lockett Carroll says he thinks he has his answer.
Clint Bowen had to prepare a defense for Lockett all four years while coaching at rival Kansas. What always impressed him was Lockett’s range. Some guys can field punts or kickoffs only when the ball is kicked to them. But Lockett could field and return balls kicked far away from him, like a center fielder tracking a fly ball in the gap.
“It wasn’t just us, either,” Bowen said. “Nobody kicked to him. Week after week, you had to have a plan to kick away from him.”
If not, Lockett had the speed and feel for setting up blocks and finding openings that could destroy teams. He returned six punts or kickoffs for touchdowns in college and did more damage in subtler ways.
A good returner is something like a thief, stealing the offense a few extra yards or nabbing the defense a little cushion. The Seahawks call those “hidden yards,” and they can be decisive.
“We show them 10 yards here, 15 yards here, and it makes all the difference in the world,” Brian Schneider said.
Lockett understands this, and he is an eager returner. That’s something Carroll said is rare. A lot of guys have the speed or elusiveness. Few have the mentality.
“It’s a very rare situation to find a guy who really has the knack and he has the big-play ability — we’re hoping,” Carroll said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it’s going to work out.”
Seahawks sign two
The Seahawks signed defensive end Julius Warmsley and offensive lineman Kona Schwenke on Monday after both players were with the team for rookie minicamp.
Schwenke was a defensive lineman with four teams last season, but the Seahawks played him at guard during the rookie minicamp.
Warmsley was on Seattle’s practice squad and injured-reserve list in 2014 and was released May 5.