RENTON — The Seahawks’ 27-0 preseason victory over the Los Angeles Chargers was a mere seconds away from concluding. It was late on a Saturday night, thousands of fans had already exited Lumen Field, and a let’s-get-this-over-with feeling was wafting through the building.
The Seahawks just had to navigate one last snap on a punt, an otherwise meaningless, uneventful and (hey, are you already yawning through a special-teams story?) rote exercise to just about everyone else watching.
Not for Pete Carroll, of course. Carroll was still competing, always competing, and he had one last message for his punter, Michael Dickson, before that one final preseason play.
“Don’t let him return this last kick,” the Seahawks coach instructed.
Dickson complied with the casual easiness of Grandpa leaning back into his recliner. Dickson boomed a punt 55 yards, landing it inside the Chargers’ 5-yard line. And after a brilliant tip by receiver Aaron Fuller to keep it out of the end zone, the ball was downed at the 3.
“An exclamation point to the whole night,” Carroll called the sequence shortly afterward.
That, in a nutshell, sums up the Seahawks’ general vibe surrounding their special-teams play entering the 2021 season — it’s the exclamation point, the finishing touch, to everything else they do.
“We have terrific kickers — guys we can really count on and you know they’re going to come through,” Carroll said. “So it’s a really solidly confident group. We have very high expectations for them.”
Dickson, Jason Myers, Tyler Ott and Nick Bellore anchor the Seahawks’ special teams units. Dickson punts. Myers kicks. Ott snaps. And Bellore does just about everything else — he blocks, he tackles and he cracks all the jokes.
All four have been selected to a Pro Bowl for their special-teams work. Ott and Bellore were Pro Bowlers last year for their first time in their careers — one could have made strong cases that Dickson and Myers should have again been selected last year — in what was perhaps top to bottom the best special-teams season the Seahawks have had under Carroll.
“It was really smooth for us. We did a nice job of playing consistently throughout the year, each week, helping the team win,” said Larry Izzo, who took over as the interim special-teams coach midway through the 2020 season and was promoted to the position full-time this offseason. “That’s our goal this year as well — just go out there every week and win one play at a time and help our team with the field-position battle.”
Dickson, the 25-year-old Australian, has been one of the steadiest punters in the NFL since the Seahawks selected him in the fifth round of the 2018 draft. According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks ranked third in the league last year in net points of field position from punts.
The team rewarded Dickson with a four-year, $14.5 million extension in the offseason.
Myers, 30, made all 24 of his field-goal attempts in 2020, including a team-record 61-yarder, and he enters this season with a streak of 35 consecutive field-goal makes.
And Ott, well, the fact you never hear his name much means he’s doing his job as the long-snapper.
“He’s super consistent, and having that trust just lets us do our thing,” Dickson said. “Giving us that little bit of extra confidence goes a long way.”
Dickson, Myers and Ott spent a lot of time together during the season. In practice, the three of them are typically on a side field working out, just the three of them.
“We’re on our own little island,” Dickson said.
It’s their third year together with the Seahawks.
“Coming in now with us being together for a few years in a row, it’s been really nice for our operation,” Ott said. “You build chemistry off each other. You know cues and timing and rhythm. … For us, it’s a huge comfort coming in knowing what to expect.”
When they closed training camp, the Seahawks were still sorting through who their kick and punt returners would be this season. D.J. Reed, Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas and Freddie Swain are top candidates, and coaches are intrigued by rookie receiver Dee Eskridge, who was a standout returner in college.
“Whoever it is that gets back there,” Izzo said, “they’re going to, No. 1, they’re going to protect the ball. And No. 2, they’re going to be explosive.”