Life in the fast Lane

Posted Nov 7, 2012

Rookie cornerback Jeremy Lane is making his mark with the Seahawks by finding ways to down punts near the goal line, which alters the way Jon Ryan kicks the ball – not to mention field position.

At the snap of the ball, the player lined up across from Jeremy Lane goes for the jam, but ends up with a whiff. Quicker than you can say, “Punt downed at the 6-yard line,” that’s exactly what Lane has done.

This blink-and-you-missed-it sequence happened on Jon Ryan’s only punt in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 30-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field. But as much of a flash as Lane was in racing down field to pin the Vikings near their own goal line, it was not a flash-in-the-pan effort.

The week before in Detroit, Lane made like Willie Mays with an over-the-shoulder basket catch of a 42-yarder by Ryan at the Lions’ 4-yard line.

As easy as the Seahawks’ rookie cornerback is making this look, downing punts inside the 10-yard line is anything but easy.

“I know I couldn’t do it,” said Heath Farwell, the most consistent player on the Seahawks’ special teams that have been extra special this season. “It takes a lot of skills, but also a lot of hard work.”

What gives? Why is Lane so good at doing something that is so difficult?

“It’s something I’ve always done, so I’m pretty used to it,” said Lane, who first became a gunner on punt coverage as a freshman at Northwestern State in Louisiana. “It’s nothing new.”

Just don’t ask him the key to unlocking his secret.

“What’s the key?” he repeated and then paused. “I guess the first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to beat the player from the line of scrimmage. The faster you beat him, the more time you have to think about what you’ve got to do once you get down there, once you see the ball.

“So my first thing is I try to beat them off the line. And then 20 yards downfield I try to find the ball.”

The 6-foot, 190-pound Lane has the attributes that special teams coordinator Brian Schneider looks for when stocking his units – which rank 10th in the league entering Sunday’s game against the New York Jets at CenturyLink Field.

“First of all, he’s really showed us that he’s just a tough football player,” Schneider after practice on Wednesday, when Lane broke up passes on back-to-back plays and later added a third while working at his other position.

“He’s been working it, had his opportunities and just done a great job.”

That’s right; the Seahawks work on downing punts near the goal every Thursday and Friday. But the goal near the goal line is to get your heels to the goal line, turn around and then down the punt.

“Here he is making a Willie Mays’ catch,” Schneider said, but at least he was smiling.

So was Ryan. “It’s not an easy thing to do,” he said. “Just to catch a punt is a difficult thing to do. And to do it on the fly, he’s sprinting as hard as he can and you turn to pick up the ball up as it coming in the air. It’s incredible how he can do that.”

What’s the feeling when you get down there to down a punt

“It feels pretty good,” Lane said. “I don’t like running all the way down there for nothing. So I always try to get something out of it."

Lane’s punt-downing prowess is a huge plus for Ryan, who ranks third in the league in average (50.0) and fifth in net average (42.6) – both higher than the franchise records of 46.6 and 39.3 he set last season.

“It just changes my approach, having a guy like that who can do that,” Ryan said. “If I’m not as confident in what’s going on, I’ll have a lot of fair catches at the 10- or 12-yard line, in that area. That’s kind of my aiming point.

“But when I have a guy like Jeremy Lane out there, I can go for the 5. I can get aggressive with it. I know he’s going to be down there. In a short time, he’s made some great plays.”

Including dropping Vikings’ returner Marcus Sherels for no gain at the 11-yard line after a 55-yarder by Ryan in Sunday’s game.

Lane hasn’t always been out there, however. When you carry 11 defensive backs on the 53-man roster, at least two have to be inactive each week. That was the case for Lane in three games this season.

But when Lane is out there, he continues to show he can make plays.

“He has a real knack for it,” Ryan said. “I love having him out there."

Not to mention down there, downing punts near the goal line.