RENTON — Perhaps you saw 2018 as the season Michael Dickson became the first rookie punter to make the Pro Bowl in 33 years. Or maybe you saw it as the season in which his 48.2 yards per punt ranked second in the NFL. Or maybe you saw it as the season in which he clinched a Seahawks win in Detroit with a nine-yard scamper that made him an instant legend.
But Dickson saw the 2018 season as this: Just OK.
“Last year, I wasn’t too happy with my season. I mean, there were some good things I did, but there were some things I could have improved on,” said Dickson, a Sydney, Australia, native who won the Ray Guy Award two years ago as college football’s best punter. “I wasn’t unhappy. It wasn’t my best season I’ve played before. Every year before that I’d improved every season, and I feel like last year I didn’t improve.”
Few besides Dickson would call his 2018 campaign anything short of stellar. It wasn’t just the distance in which he would boom his kicks, it was the pitching-wedge-like control he’d have on the ball near the end zone.
It wasn’t uncommon to see a blast from midfield dart 90 degrees out of bounds from inside the 5-yard line. Throw in his occasional drop-kick kickoffs, and you can say he was as innovative as he was dominant.
But he also was a rookie. And regardless of the position, it’s rare for anyone to peak in their first season in professional sports.
“Michael Dickson said he wasn’t happy with his season, what do you think about that?” Seahawks special-teams coach Brian Schneider was asked.
“I think that goes right along with who he is as a person, and that’s why he’s going to be really good for a long period of time,” Schneider said. “He has a lot of high goals, his work ethic is unbelievable. I have to slow him down so he doesn’t punt so much. So that doesn’t surprise me at all. He is aiming to be the greatest ever.”
Reaching that pinnacle may give Dickson lifelong star status in Seattle. The odds of that happening in Australia, however, seem significantly slimmer.
Despite the numbers he put up last year, Dickson said he was rarely recognized in his homeland when he returned this summer. And he hopes that doesn’t change.
“Back home it’s good, because nobody really knows. I can just go back and chill and not have to worry about going to the shops and being recognized,” said Dickson, who once aspired to play Australian rules football professionally. “It’s less intense in Australia. No one really follows (NFL) football there.”
They sure do in Seattle, though. And people are learning just how valuable Dickson’s blend of power and precision can be for the Seahawks.
After Dickson’s debut game in Denver last year — in which he netted 57.5 yards per punt and downed four inside the Broncos’ 20-yard line — analysis and stats website Football Outsiders estimated his production was worth about 10 points for the Seahawks. In other words, if Seattle just had an average punter,it would have lost that game by 13 instead of three.
That may not have been comforting to fans in the short term, but it should be encouraging knowing how much a punter can be worth on a given day.
Dickson’s most famous — and nearly most infamous — moment came when he ran for a first down vs. the Lions, a play in which he was supposed to take a safety late in the fourth quarter. He said the coaches will show that play from time to time, which always elicits cheers from teammates. But his true value is advancing the ball upfield with one leg — not two.
Punter may seem like a position in which the surrounding talent is irrelevant. You can either kick it well or you can’t, right? But Dickson said there are subtle things, such as launch points, in the NFL that differ from his college days at Texas.
He didn’t know that during training camp last year. Now he does, and he’s looking forward to what he can do.
Given his talent, Dickson will likely have a good season by anybody’s standard. But if it’s good by his standard, it could be one for the ages.