RENTON — The battle for Seattle’s third-receiver spot after Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf is generally expected to come down to Dee Eskridge and Freddie Swain.
Eskridge was Seattle’s first pick in the 2021 draft at No. 56 overall, the second-highest receiver taken during the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era. Swain, meanwhile, flashed at times as a rookie in 2020 and is the most experienced receiver on the roster other than the two starters following the offseason departures in free agency of David Moore and Phillip Dorsett.
But this week’s three-day minicamp that concluded Thursday made clear that another player could force himself into the competition — Penny Hart.
Hart was Seattle’s fifth receiver last season but made just one catch for 3 yards in 62 snaps, with his biggest contributions coming on special teams. As such he may be easy to overlook — and not just because he’s only 5 feet 8.
Hart, though, stood out Thursday with two highlight-reel catches, one a leaping one-hander for a TD down the middle from Russell Wilson, who sprinted down the field to greet him.
Afterward Carroll said Hart “had a spectacular couple of weeks” during OTAs and minicamp to play himself firmly into the competition.
“He’s right in it,” Carroll said of Hart, who played at Georgia State and was in camp with the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He joined Seattle’s practice squad at midseason and spent all of last season with the Seahawks on either the practice squad or the active roster.
Hart became more of a regular on special teams as the year wore on, and Carroll said his ability in those roles only adds to his value.
“Penny made the team last year because you can count on him,” Carroll said. “You can count on him in a lot of ways, in running his routes right, knowing the offense, (playing) multiple positions, contributing on special teams, his toughness, his attitude.”
Hart also benefitted during minicamp that the team held Eskridge out of on-field drills due to a toe issue — he was in uniform and caught passes during early individual drills.
The injury isn’t considered a big deal, and until the team sees how ready Eskridge is to make a significant impact it’s hard to really handicap the third-receiver battle. But Hart’s odds appear a lot better now than a few weeks ago.
Seahawks coaches fully vaccinated
As NFL teams head into the summer, one question hovering over all is COVID-19 and new league protocols that seemed designed to heavily incentivize players and coaches to get the vaccine.
Carroll said that won’t be an issue with Seattle’s coaching staff, adding that they all have gotten the vaccine (though a few still wore masks during practice).
As for players, Carroll gave the most definitive answer yet Thursday on where Seattle stands, saying, “We’re going to be hovering around 70% here soon and maybe by the end of the weekend.”
Carroll has said the Seahawks are roughly in the upper half of NFL teams. A report from SI.com on Thursday stated that two teams are above 85% — Miami and New Orleans. That means Seattle has a ways to go to get to the top. That number is significant, as it’s thought the NFL may relax COVID protocols for teams who are 85% or more vaccinated.
But Carroll said the team could make significant progress Thursday, as Seattle was making the vaccine available for all players as they headed out of the facility following the final minicamp practice of the offseason program and into the summer.
Seattle was hoping players would get the shots now so they would be fully vaccinated by the time training camp opens July 31, even if they will need to get both shots.
But Carroll also reiterated that “everybody’s entitled to their own” decision while saying they will have to understand the consequences. That includes players who are not vaccinated having to undergo daily testing while those who are fully vaccinated will have to be tested only once every two weeks. There are also financial penalties that can be levied on unvaccinated players who run afoul of protocols.
As he has whenever asked about vaccine-related issues the past few weeks, Carroll expressed optimism it will not be an issue for Seattle once the season begins.
“We’re not in bad shape,” Carroll said, adding that he thinks “the bulk of the team” will be vaccinated by training camp.
- Defensive end Carlos Dunlap was back at practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday due to an illness.
- Receiver John Ursua sat out after tweaking his knee earlier during minicamp. But Carroll said there is “nothing wrong” with the knee, so it won’t impact his status for camp.
- Offensive lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage of Montreal, signed as an undrafted free agent last month, recently had athletic hernia surgery, Carroll said, after taking part in most of the offseason program. Lestage can play guard and center, and Carroll said “he made a really good impression in his start here with us, so we felt like we had a pretty good feel, so we went ahead and got surgery done.’’
- Defensive back Marquise Blair sat out Thursday. Carroll said that was by design, as Blair is coming off ACL surgery in September, and the team wanted to give him the day off. Carroll said Blair had done well in camp and “we didn’t want to overload him this early.”