RENTON — Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf presented a rather, well, youthful front during his first NFL game Sunday.
Thanks in part to a suggestion from teammate Gary Jennings, Metcalf wore a mouthguard painted as a baby’s pacifier.
Metcalf indicated there was no great meaning to it, just something fun to do.
Any reaction from anybody?
“No, not really,” Metcalf said.
Everything else about Metcalf’s first NFL game, though, gave the appearance of a player wise beyond his years — up to, and including, his interviews afterward and later in the week, in which he resisted the idea that any of it was all that big of a deal.
Metcalf set a Seahawks record with four catches for 89 yards, breaking a 43-year old team record set by Steve Largent for most yards by a receiver in his first game, and also drew a penalty on a defensive pass interference in the end zone that helped set up a touchdown.
“You can see why we are fired up about him,” coach Pete Carroll said.
The play that might have fired them up the most was a 25-yard reception late in the third quarter when he saw Russell Wilson get flushed out of the pocket and broke downfield to find an open spot in the secondary, then held on to the ball as he was hit by two defenders. That converted a third-and-five and set up Seattle’s winning touchdown two plays later.
“I think most rookies don’t recognize things as fast, in their first couple of games at least, as fast as DK did in that first game,” Wilson said Thursday. “I thought that he saw things, he saw me scrambling, reacted quickly. He’s got a great response there.”
It was the kind of instinctual play that some NFL draft analysts wondered how quickly Metcalf would be able to pull off.
No one doubted Metcalf’s physical gifts — the 6-foot-2, 229-pound frame and 4.32-second 40-yard dash. But many draft analysts noted that Metcalf ran a limited route tree at Ole Miss, where he was paired with A.J. Brown (who also had an impressive debut with three catches for 100 yards for the Titans), often confined to running go routes.
NFL.com’s scouting report ahead of the 2019 draft called Metcalf “an unpolished gem” and stated “until his skill-set is more developed, he could begin his career as a hit-or-miss long-ball threat.”
Metcalf knew of that reputation and spent the run-up to the draft working on his routes with veteran coach Jerry Sullivan.
He also knew the minute he got drafted by the Seahawks that he’d better work on “the scramble drill,” Seattle’s name for how it wants receivers to respond once Wilson takes off running.
Metcalf noted that current Michigan QB Shea Paterson, who played at Ole Miss in 2016 and 2017, also was a good runner.
“(Patterson) was one of the few quarterbacks I played with who can run around,” Metcalf said. “But (Wilson’s) scrambling ability is way different.”
Wilson said it took just three practices into training camp for him to realize that Metcalf knew what to do when a play broke down and he took off running.
“We were playing team drills and he just did great job scrambling that day,” Wilson recalled. “ … I scrambled a couple of times and he came back to me, he came across the field. He works hard, really. All those things in terms of scrambling is really just instincts and playing football and trying to find the open spot. And it’s also effort. Having great effort.”
One game might be too early to anoint Metcalf as living up to the immense hype that greeted his arrival, but Wilson and coaches have seen it consistently in practice, so to them Sunday was no surprise.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said the 25-yard scramble play was an example of Wilson’s trust in Metcalf, then added, “He’s earned that over the process of OTAs (organized team activities) and training camp.”
What they also like is Metcalf’s handling of the hype and attention that has come his way, a trait that might be due in part to having grown up with an NFL offensive lineman as a father, Terrence Metcalf, who played in the league from 2002-10.
“I could have done a lot of stuff better,’’ DK Metcalf said when asked his initial impression of Sunday’s game. “But overall it was just fun and just a good experience to be out there for the first time.’’
What specifically could have been better?
“A lot of stuff,’’ he said. “Ran routes better, blocked better, caught the ball better. My run after the catch could have been better, so a lot of things I could have done better.’’
The only real negatives were two penalties — one a hold and the other offensive pass interference. Interference is a particular emphasis in the league this year, and Metcalf said he knows that with his physical style he’s likely to be involved in a lot of plays where officials will be keeping a close eye.
“I’m starting to know that they are calling OPI (offensive pass interference) a lot more, so just got to change my game to the rules,’’ he said. “I know I’ve got a lot of strength that most receivers don’t have, so just got to adapt and change with the game.’’
But if there remains some learning to be done, Metcalf is showing he’s already well ahead of the curve.