When Jermaine Kearse sees an opportunity, he seizes it

Posted Oct 11, 2013

After his Lasik eye surgery during the offseason, it’s been easy to see the improvement in Jermaine Kearse’s performance as a wide receiver and also on special teams.

Jermaine Kearse thought he had moved past the story of his offseason Lasik eye surgery.

So when asked about it this week, a puzzled expression washed across the face of the Seahawks’ second-year wide receiver and special-teams standout. “So we’re back to the eye question?” he asked.

Sorry, Jermaine. When you start the season the way Kearse has, everyone is looking for reasons why, and his coaches and even teammates have pointed to the corrective procedure as a reason for the jump in his production.

And it’s been production despite limited opportunities.

Entering Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans at the CenturyLink Field, Kearse has touched the ball only eight times. But just look at what he’s done:

Four receptions for 94 yards, on five targets, including touchdown catches of 28 yards against the Colts in Indianapolis last week and 43 yards in the season opener against the Panthers in Carolina for what proved to be the game-winning score.

One blocked punt, which became a safety against the Colts and could have been a touchdown if the officials had been as convinced as coach Pete Carroll that Jeron Johnson had control of the ball as he slid out of the back of the end zone.

Three kickoff returns for 30, 23 and 21 yards.

Now that is making the most of the opportunities that come your way.

“Just controlling the things I can control,” Kearse said of his contributions exceeding his chances. “And when my number gets called, or I’m given an opportunity, just make the best of it and make the play.”

Sounds simple enough. But there’s got to be more to it in trying to explain the leaps-and-bounds improvement Kearse has shown since last season, when the rookie free agent from the University of Washington was on the practice squad until being added to the 53-man roster in late October and then had three receptions for 31 yards and three special-teams tackles in seven games.

“The main thing I wanted to improve on was just consistency,” Kearse said. “Just continue to be consistent in route running, catching the ball, paying attention to the details and doing the things right.”

Kearse got a nudge in that direction from Carroll, who offered, “I watched Jermaine a lot, because I watched Sark’s team a lot.”

That would be Steve Sarkisian, Kearse’s coach at UW and a former assistant on Carroll’s staff at USC.

“So I knew Jermaine and his style of play,” Carroll continued. “And I always thought he was better than what showed. I always thought he had more potential than what showed. Because he always could make terrific plays, and then I thought some plays got away from him.

“When he came in here, I was excited to see what he would do because I had a sense for his potential. But I was kind of on his butt, to tell you truth, in all ways because I thought plays got away from him. And I used to get mad at him because he didn’t help Sark win. … So when we had a chance to get him, I got on him pretty hard right at the beginning about finishing plays and really giving us everything he had.”

What does Kearse remember about that situation? “Well, Pete was kind of on me from the beginning,” he said. “I guess him and his ties with Sark he used to be kind of on me. Even when I catch the ball just finishing the extra 10 yards and stuff like that.

“But those are the type of things you want as a player. You want the coach to continue to push you and try to get the best out of you.”

Carroll’s extra-attention efforts haven’t been wasted on Kearse. Just ask his teammates – especially Sidney Rice, the leader of the Seahawks’ good-hands crew.

“As I said last year when he first got activated, Jermaine has real good hands, and he’s a great route runner as well. He can play inside, outside, do whatever you need him to do,” Rice said. “He picks up on things very well. He’s been able to make plays when we’ve called on him this year – a couple of big-time touchdowns in a couple of games where we’ve needed them.

“I think he’s going to be a great receiver in this league for a long time when his time comes.”

Doug Baldwin has seen Kearse’s improvement in his increased confidence. Baldwin, like Kearse, made the Seahawks as a rookie free agent. That was in 2011, when Baldwin was the team’s leading receiver.

“His confidence level has skyrocketed,” Baldwin said. “Last year, he was just kind of feeling his way. He didn’t know the offense as well as he does now. So I think that’s helped him be able to get in the games and just play football. Play free.

“And then also he got Lasik surgery.”        

Oops, there is it. So what about that eye surgery? Kearse said just after having the procedure that it was the best money he’s ever spent. This week, he added, “The main part that it helps is with tracking the ball, like with the ball in the air. That’s definitely where I feel it improved the most.”

As Carroll put it, “I think when he got his eyes fixed it really helped him, too. He’s been terrifically on it since, really, the surgery. He’s made great catches, one after another.”

Now it’s plain to see that Kearse deserves more opportunities to make even more plays.

“He’s done a great job for us,” Carroll said. “We have growing confidence in him. We need more opportunities for him because he’s done everything well. … We’re going to continue to expect that he’ll be more of a factor. He’s earned that.”