After the Seahawks preseason game last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, coach Pete Carroll said Tyler Lockett reminded him of one of the better return specialists Seattle has ever seen - Leon Washington.
Every time Lockett stands back to return a kick or punt, Carroll said the entire Seahawks sideline stands eager to see what the rookie wide receiver will do, much like the team did when Washington was in the mix through Carroll's first three seasons in Seattle.
Saturday night's 16-15 preseason win over the San Diego Chargers provided the latest example of what Lockett can do. Two weeks after returning a kick 103 yards for a touchdown, Lockett took a second-quarter punt back 67 yards for a score, weaving in and out of traffic, skirting from sideline to sideline, and using his breakaway speed to outrun San Diego's entire punt-coverage team to pay-dirt.
"I've got to give credit to the other 10 guys that were out there," a humble Lockett said of the play, his only punt return of the night. "They've got the dirty job, they do the dirty work, and the one thing I admire most is how well they stay on their blocks. It made it easy for me to be able to catch the ball, and not only that, but they made the holes wide for the returner to be able to even pick a hole to run through."
Through three preseason games, Lockett has amassed 262 yards on seven kickoff returns (37.4-yard average) and 105 yards on four punt returns (26.3-yard average). Add those up and you get 367 return yards, plus the two touchdowns, which is exactly the type of production the Seahawks hoped to get out of Lockett after trading up to select him in the third round (No. 69 overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft.
But if you ask Lockett about the eye-popping numbers he'll insist that his success in the return game has as much to do with his own skill, speed, and field vision as it does with the 10 other players in front of him.
"I think everything works together," Lockett said. "In order to have a great return you've got to have great blocking and like I said we selected a lot of great guys out there that's willing to do the dirty work and it helps the returner to be able to do whatever he does best. It's all about doing your job at the end of the day and in order for a returner to do his job the other 10 people do their jobs.
"Usually, it's the returner that gets the credit," he added. "But at the same time the other 10 players need to get credit for the outstanding blocks that they get as well."
Lockett is right. The other 10 players do deserve credit for what they helped accomplish at San Diego. So, for that very reason, I caught up with a few Seahawks players who were in on the play. Here's what they had to say...
Defensive end Cassius Marsh's block got Lockett in the open field early. Marsh drove his defender into the ground around the 40-yard-line, turned around in time to see Lockett at midfield, and sprinted back into the play after Lockett had cut back across the field. He tried to land one more block that might help Lockett hit the end zone, but as it turned out, he didn't need to. Lockett was just that fast.
"It's just like we do in practice, man," said Marsh. "It's exactly like practice. I got my block and he started breaking free and I saw he was going to have to cut back to the right, so I tried to sprint over there and see if I can get a block on him. But he just took off, got himself into the end zone. It was a great play."
Will Blackmon, the veteran cornerback who spent the first four years of his career working as a return specialist with the Green Bay Packers, had a decision to make as Lockett began to cut his return back across the field. After crossing the 50-yard-line, Lockett slowed to change direction around the 40, and had a San Diego defender sniffing at his heels.
"I had a clean shot," Blackmon said. "I could have smoked that dude."
Chasing the play from behind, the angle Blackmon had would have allowed him to level the oncoming tackler. But Blackmon chose to simply get in the defender's way instead, recalling a blind-side block he delivered in a similar situation last year for the Jacksonville Jaguars that saw Blackmon flagged for unnecessary roughness - and eventually, fined, too - and the return called back.
"It was one of those things where it was like it could have been legal, but I was like let me just get in his way and slow him down," said Blackmon. "Tyler is fast enough to get by him."
Sure enough, Tyler was fast enough. The defender that was on Lockett's backside started to stumble after Blackmon stepped in his way, and Lockett, as we know, found the end zone moments later.
"I mentioned earlier in the week that we drafted him to be a returner, and it's pretty cool that that's how it happens, that it works out like that," Blackmon said. "He's really, really good at that."
Doug Baldwin, 2014's leading receiver, has been impressed with Lockett from the start, well before the rookie started to excel in preseason play. Baldwin already labeled Lockett more polished than he was during his own rookie season, which marked the first time Baldwin led the Seahawks in receiving. As a position group, Baldwin and his fellow receivers take pride in performing well on special teams, and Saturday's 67-yard punt return for a touchdown from Lockett featured Baldwin leading the way as a blocker at the 35-yard-line.
"It's extremely fun, man, because we feel like we're impacting the game," Baldwin said. "We feel like we're impacting this team in a positive manner. So we've got a guy returning the punt and we've got a couple guys on the outside blocking for him, it's like we're making a difference. Sometimes it feels like we don't get to make the difference on offense all the time, but we do it on special teams. So it's always fun that we can do that together."
Cornerback Tharold Simon, seeing his first action of the year after starting the season on the physically unable to perform list, was part of the unit that provided the first hole for Lockett to run through. He then spent a majority of the play trying to chase Lockett down field.
"It's crazy, he's fast, man," said Simon. "I tried to catch him after I had the block as he comes across the field one time, then he cut back across the field. I'm like, 'Yeah, this kid's fast.' He's real good, though. I love him back there."
The Seahawks head coach's reaction not only hit on what makes Lockett so great in the return game, but also on how the mere threat of a Lockett return should put Seattle in more favorable field position more often than not.
"He runs 4.3 and he's got great feel and he's got all the guts that you need to be a great returner," Carroll said. "Obviously, you saw tonight really terrific vision to use the whole field for that return. He's been doing it his whole life and we really shouldn't even be that surprised. He's done this forever. So it's awesome that John [Schneider] found him, picked him, got him on our team and the factor that we were hoping to get really looks like it's available.
"We won't always be able to hit returns like that for touchdowns and stuff, but it's a great threat that'll help us in many situations to come."
From The Sideline
Richard Sherman, who saw his first snaps of preseason play on Saturday in San Diego, wasn't on the field for Lockett's big return. But the All-Pro cornerback liked everything he saw.
"He's an explosive player," Sherman said. "I think he believes in his ability. He made things happen, he corrected some of the blocks, and he had great vision. I think that's one of his gifts. That's why they drafted him to do that. We're fortunate to have him."