Without Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks would not have scored a touchdown in the first 57 minutes of Friday night’s exhibition debut against Denver.
Without Tyler Lockett, Pete Carroll wouldn’t have run over a sideline official.
Without Tyler Lockett, it would be Seattle’s kickoff- and punt-return mess from 2014 all over again.
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That’s how electrifying and reassuring the rookie third-round draft choice from Kansas State was in his first “game” for the team that traded four draft choices in May to move up and get him. He single-handedly – double-footedly, really – rescued the Seahawks from what would have been a wholly underwhelming preseason opener against a Denver team that had its starters in far longer than Seattle did.
The Seahawks’ starting offensive line with new starters Lemuel Jeanpierre for traded Pro Bowler Max Unger at center and Alvin Bailey for departed free agent James Carpenter at left guard was as porous as it has been in training camp; Russell Wilson got sacked and lost a fumble at his own 11 on the game’s second play then got dumped again on the next drive.
The defensive secondary sustained yet another injury when newly acquired Mohammed Seisay pulled his groin. Chris Matthews, the wide receiver and Super Bowl hero Feb. 1, sustained an AC (acromioclavicular) joint sprain. That’s another name for a shoulder separation, the result of trying to recover a fumbled punt return by the Broncos. No. 2 quarterback Tarvaris Jackson could be out “a little bit, of course we are concerned,” Carroll said, following when a Denver defender rolled up on his ankle spraining it on the first drive of the third quarter.
Those would be all you and I are talking about this morning. Instead, it’s Tyler Lockett, after his 103-yard kickoff return followed a 46-yard one and preceded an escaping, 18-yard punt return that was all his improvisation.
“We drafted him with the thought that he might give us a real spark in an area that we wanted to find a way to improve and be more dynamic. He did that,” Carroll said. “He'll tell you that he just missed the cut on the first one, and he had a big play there, too. I think the creative return on the punt return was really nice to see. He started one way and got bottled up, and had the speed to get back around.
“Also, on the big kickoff, lots of times guys make that break and they start to turn the corner, and they get run down at the 30 yard line. He finished it, and that's 4.3, and it showed up. A lot of fast guys tried to get him, and he turned the corner. He didn't really have a great angle, it looked like to me.
“And then I didn't see the rest."
That, of course, is a reference to this comedy from Carroll.
Lockett is known in Kansas as a self-assured man of process, a son of K-State’s former career receiving leader Frank Lockett who internalized Wildcats coach Bill Snyder’s system to become a Heartland wonder. But even he was a tad taken aback by what he did in his first NFL showcase.
“It’s a little bit more than I could have imagined,” he said. “Especially it being my first game.
“Nobody understands or knows what their debut is going to be like. There's a million thoughts that go through your head, especially when you play a night game. anything can happen and you just kind of have to run with it and go with the flow. Luckily I was blessed enough to have a game like this. ... I felt the very first time I was out there it got a lot faster. But after that was over it was the same. It was the same as college to me.”
That’s exactly why Seattle general manager John Schneider and Carroll traded from the bottom to the top of the third round with Washington to get him.
“Of course it's going to get a lot faster down the road. But I think for me, as long as you know what you're doing and stuff like that the game slows down a little bit,” Lockett said.
He said Seahawks veteran such as Doug Baldwin, a part-time kick returner who won’t have to be doing that anymore with Lockett now here, told him to simply rely on is instincts.
“Don't think too much, because when you think is when you make mistakes and stuff like that,” Lockett said. “So I really just try to go out there and play off of instincts. The coaches know we're going to make mistakes and stuff like that and it's all about correcting and not making the same mistake again. You have to be able to play mistake free. You can't worry about making mistakes."
No worrying about any of those from him last night.
Lost to some amid how long the game got were the late-game standouts: Undrafted rookie T.Y. McGill from Wilson’s former North Carolina State spent most of the second, third and fourth quarters with Cassius Marsh and top rookie draft choice Frank Clark in Denver’s backfield. Wide receiver B.J. Daniels, the former No. 3 quarterback, caught two of the four passes thrown near him and returned his first kickoff in the second quarter 35 yards. Former University of Washington wide receiver Kevin Smith got Carroll’s praise for two catches for 36 yards on consecutive completions by otherwise erratic (again) third QB R.J. Archer in the third quarter.
Smith, who blew out his knee in practice the week before the Alamo Bowl in December 2012 during his junior season at UW, got his first catch by contorting himself back to catch Archer’s poor throw that was far behind him.
There are jobs to win at wide receiver, especially with Matthews now out indefinitely. And Smith made a big step toward one of those.
"Gosh, he sure did. He had two great plays and good finishes on catches,” Carroll said. “It was really cool to see that. He's been really active in camp and done very, very well for us. The catch on the one behind him was a fantastic grab, to hang on, and he got whacked, too. So a good showing."
Good. But not as good as Lockett’s first one.