These are both exciting and difficult times for Paul Richardson and Kasen Williams. Both Seahawks receivers have seen their role increase this week—Richardson is now the team's No. 3 receiver, meaning more playing time and targets, while Williams was promoted off of the practice squad Tuesday—but both are also all too familiar with the reason for those opportunities.
When Tyler Lockett went down with a broken leg in last week's game, Richardson was devastated for his friend and teammate. The two are roommates on the road and at the team hotel the day before home games and have formed a close bond, but Richardson also hurt for his friend because he knows what it's like to suffer a season-ending injury having twice torn his ACL, once in college, then again late in his rookie season with the Seahawks.
"I'm very excited for this opportunity," Richardson said. "But I'm even more excited to see that Tyler is doing well. A few of us were able to go see him. His spirits are up, and all he was talking about everyone else. He was really positive… I took it pretty hard. I'm still taking it hard, harder than he took it, probably. But I know from talking to him, he's in really good spirits and he's going to be fine.
"But I'm very excited. It's a great opportunity. I've been in this position before my rookie year, then I fell out of that position because I got hurt. I just want to help the team as much as I can, help the offense play fast, play smart, don't try to overdo it."
Williams, meanwhile, is excited to be back on the 53-man roster for the first time since the end of last season, but he too understands what Lockett is going through. As a junior at University of Washington, Williams suffered a broken leg as well as a Lisfranc injury in his foot, an injury that ended his junior season and limited his production as a senior, and very likely played a big role in him going undrafted.
"I've been through a major injury just like he has, so I just talked to him about the things he can do to still work on his game mentally, and just being there for him," Williams said.
But as much as Richardson and Williams can relate to the disappointment their injured teammate is feeling, they also know there's no time to look back as the Seahawks prepare for their final regular season game and what they hope will be a long postseason run. As was evident in the second half of last week's game, the Seahawks will rely on Richardson now more than they have since late in his rookie season when he had 13 catches for 142 yards and a touchdown over the last three weeks of the regular season before injuring his knee in a playoff win over Carolina. Richardson finished Saturday's game with four catches for 42 yards—his most catches since the end of the 2014 season—including the game-tying touchdown catch, and is more than ready to take on a bigger role after injuries cost him almost the entire 2015 season.
"It has been very tough," Richardson said of biding his time. "But I think I've gotten stronger though because of it, mentally and physically, and I raised my football IQ a lot. That's all I could do. If I can't run around, I've got to be able to at least see what's going on and be able to learn, and I think that's what helped me to have them feel comfortable putting me back in this position."
While the Seahawks will certainly miss having Lockett this week and in the playoffs, they're also confident in what they'll get from Richardson as he becomes a bigger part of the receiver rotation.
"I've always been confident in Paul and his abilities," receiver Doug Baldwin said. "He's got the talent, he's got the work ethic, that's not in question, it's just all about the opportunities. So I'm extremely excited for him, because he has prepared at a really high level to get these opportunities, so I can't wait to see what he does with them."
Added offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell: "He has been chomping at the bit for a while. The consistency and the injuries has been something that has held him back. He has overcome those injuries now, he has been playing some consistent ball as of late. He's been dying to get in there, we're excited to have him in there. He still brings us that speed that we look for at that position. He can make plays down the field, he's really good at getting in and out of his breaks, as well, so we feel like we still have a good part there."
Williams, meanwhile, doesn't figure to have as big of a role as Richardson, but he'll still be called upon to help both on offense and special teams, and he's eager to take the next step in what has been a "really hard" journey to get to this point in his career. After being named Parade Magazine's high school player of the year as a senior at Skyline High School, and after a breakout sophomore season with the Huskies, an NFL career was almost a foregone conclusion for Williams. But after the major injury setback in college, then a hamstring injury in camp this year that ended his hopes of opening the season on the 53-man roster, Williams has had to battle to stick around in the NFL, spending most of the past two seasons on Seattle's practice squad with only one regular-season catch to show for all the work he has put in.
"It has been hard, it's been really hard, but I still feel like I've been continuing to grow each week," Williams said. "I feel like I've taken advantage of the opportunities I have going against the No. 1 defense in the NFL, so I've grown, I haven't stopped growing, and I'm just waiting to put it all on the field."
As even if in an alternate universe a healthy Williams might have been drafted in 2015 and spent the last two seasons making big contributions on an NFL roster, he doesn't regret the path he has taken, because he knows he is a better person for the adversity he has faced.
"I'd have been real complacent and I probably would have had some cockiness to me too," Williams said. "But this road that was chosen for me, it has definitely given me a different perspective on work ethic and grind and what it takes to be great. I don't think I would have had that if I would have taken a traditional route. I needed some adversity so I could learn a few different things. It's different not being the best guy on the team, it's different when your quarterback's not always looking to get you the ball. Now it's like, I've got to prove to him that I'm worthy, then I've got to prove to coaches that I'm worthy, then I've got to do it every day. Then when the opportunity comes in a game, I've got to take advantage of it."
Team photographer Rod Mar shares behind-the-scenes images from the Seahawks' Week 16 game against the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas Eve at CenturyLink Field.