The Seattle Seahawks’ primary goals on special teams’ returns in 2015 seem sensible yet modest:
▪ Gain at least 10 yards on each punt return.
▪ At minimum, try and reach the 30-yard line on kickoff returns.
The reason those aims seem ridiculous is because of who primarily handles those returns — rookie sensation Tyler Lockett.
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Whatever they’re doing, the Seahawks should keep doing it. After finishing last season ranked 25th in punt returns (7.0 yards per return) and 30th in kickoff returns (21.0 ypr), Seattle is near the top in both of those categories through three games.
And the Seahawks also are the only team in the league to score a touchdown both ways — courtesy of Lockett, whom the team got after trading three draft picks to move up in the third round of the NFL Draft.
His team-record 105-yard kickoff return to open the second half also opened the floodgates in the Seahawks’ 26-0 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
Not as memorable, but equally as important was the team’s 64-yard punt return midway through the first quarter that set up Steven Hauschka’s 31-yard field goal — which ended up being the winning score.
Through three games, Seattle is No. 3 in kickoff return average (34.3) and punt return average (19.8).
“(Lockett) is doing a great job of catching the ball and going, and the guys are doing a great job of blocking,” Seahawks special teams coach Brian Schneider said. “We are making the most of our opportunities when they come.”
Even the ones they manufacture.
Last season, St. Louis fooled the Seahawks’ punt coverage team by sending its blockers in one direction to set up for normal returner Tavon Austin, only to have Stedman Bailey catch it on the other side of the field and return it 90 yards for a touchdown in a Rams’ 28-26 victory.
The Seahawks installed the gadget punt-return play into the game plan Friday, although Schneider alerted cornerback Richard Sherman — normally the outside defender assigned to jam the gunner — and Lockett about it earlier in the week.
Even after only practicing it for two days, the Seahawks were ready when Chicago’s Pat O’Donnell unleashed a high-arcing 42-yard punt.
Sherman retreated up the right sideline where the punt was headed. Lockett and his blockers drifted toward the left sideline to lure the Chicago coverage team in that direction.
“It is a good play, because it is such a hard catch,” said Sherman, who caught the punt over his shoulder while fighting the glare of the sun.
“Nobody expects the gunner to go from the line of scrimmage and go back and catch the punt — and then return it.”
As Sherman darted up the middle of the field 64 yards to the Bears’ 19, Lockett had his own role on the play — sell a fake return. And he did by falling to the ground, just like Austin did against Seattle last season.
“It was going to be on me,” Lockett said, “to be a great actor.”
Added Schneider: “You put two guys you trust in that situation, and they did a great job.”
Later, it was on Lockett to be a burner returner on kickoffs.
Sprinting up the left sideline, he wasn’t even close to being touched — especially after a lead block by Ricardo Lockette cleared a path.
Then it was down to Lockett getting by kicker Robbie Gould — a mismatch, indeed. And the Kansas State rookie hesitated just enough to get Gould to slow down — and then run by him.
“They did a phenomenal job blocking where it was easy to be able to read it, and I don’t think anybody touched me at all,” Lockett said.
“On a kickoff return, we only get one shot. But we always talk about making it our best, because you never know how many opportunities you are going to get.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442