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Putting the 'Special' in Special Teams

During this time of year, special teams doesn't usually get a large amount of attention. Enter the Seahawks third-round draft pick, Tyler Lockett.

Special teams doesn't usually get a large amount of attention during this time of the year, but it's hard not to pay attention when third-round draft pick Tyler Lockett is on the field. 

His footwork, decision-making and attitude caught the attention of special teams coach Brian Schneider during the Seahawks rookie minicamp last weekend. 

"It's exactly what you want back there," Schneider said of Lockett's approach to special teams. "I kind of compare it to the way Leon (Washington) approached the return game. When Leon Washington was here, he loved it. He loved the challenge of it. He loved to work at it. It was a real challenge for him to get better at something almost every day. And you see those same qualities in Lockett."

Seahawks fans will almost assuredly see Lockett as the Seahawks primary returner for both kickoffs and punts from Day 1. Assuming both roles is something few players do well because each requires a different mindset and skill set.  

"The punts are always the ones where you can get a lot of different balls and a lot of different angles and a lot of different things happening. So there's a lot of decisions to be made," Schneider explained. "On kickoff you're deciding whether to bring it out or not so you have to have experience there. I always go back to the ones you don't return; how do those impact the game? His ball security, all of those things are just fabulous for what kind of player he is."

Special teams play is an emphasis for the Seahawks. Schneider and the staff view a return as the first play on offense. The goal is to make an explosive play to start a drive, something the Seahawks have defined as 12 or more yards on a punt return and 31 or more yards on a kickoff return. 

"Once you do that you're maximizing opportunities for the offense to score," Schneider said. "What's one more first down? You might get a field goal instead of punting."

The numbers slipped in the return game last season. Only 10 percent of the Seahawks punt returns went for 12 or more yards. Since Leon Washington's departure only five of the 44 kickoffs fielded by a primary returner have resulted in a gain of 31 yards or more. 

Enter Lockett. He averaged 28.5 yards per kickoff return in college and his punt return average topped more than 15 yards. Exactly what the Seahawks are looking for, and the opportunity Lockett wants. At Kansas State his special teams contributions were just the start of a record-setting career. 
"It gave me the confidence to know that I could play this game," Lockett said of starting his college career on special teams. "Being able to understand that it was access, me being able to get my foot in the door to be able to play more than special teams. As teams started to see me as a special teams player I was able to develop and master my craft in the receiving game and it's been able to help me out along the way." 

The Seahawks wrapped up their 2015 Rookie Minicamp on Sunday at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center

So did natural instincts and a coach who encouraged him to understand the situation and know when to avoid the big hit. A return man is involved in the most violent aspects of the game and yet Lockett managed to stay on the field for four seasons at Kansas State. 

"It's about making it through the entire season," Lockett explained. "My receiver coach told me at K-State if you don't have to take a big hit you don't have to take it. Just fall down and live to fight another day."

"He's really unbelievable in the open field," Schneider said. "Feeling not only his team, but defenders coming down the field. That's something that you don't see all the time and he's not hesitating so that's a real natural feel for him."

That's something that should translate into big returns for the Seahawks and no doubt envisions the impact Lockett can make this season. 

"You don't ever want to throw anything on anybody in terms of expectations," Schneider said. "But from what we've seen and what he's proven over the years he's dynamic and all he has to do is go out and be who is and who he's always been and he's going to be very impactful." 

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