Will Dissly worked tirelessly for 11 months to make his way back from a torn patellar tendon in order to be on the field for the Seahawks' regular-season opener against the Bengals.
Then, in a cruel twist of fate, the second-year tight end was unable to finish that game due to a knee injury, though this one was mercifully far less serious, allowing him to return the following week. And in his first full game back from that injury, Dissly showed that he is very much still the same player who impressed coaches and teammates so much in the first few games of his rookie season.
Dissly caught five passes for 50 yards in Seattle's Week 2 win in Pittsburgh, including touchdown grabs of 12 and 14 yards, and he could have had a huge game had offsetting penalties not wiped out a 43-yard catch and run.
"He picked right up where he left off," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He's making extra yards and getting first downs for us. His hand placement when catching the football is really, really good. The ability to use his range too and Russ (Wilson) knows how to throw the ball. The first touchdown he threw to his back shoulder. It was a great throw. He kind of makes all that look easy. You didn't see him get the football very much in college and they had a couple guys that played. He was a really good blocker. You go back to Will's background. He's a basketball player and a baseball player and all-around athlete. Things come natural to him."
"No question, he's back… He looked like he was in full form last week."
As Carroll noted, Dissly wasn't used much as a pass catcher at the University of Washington, and the Seahawks drafted him primarily for his blocking ability, which makes his production as a pass catcher all the more impressive. In two seasons as a tight end with the Huskies—he began his college career as a defensive end—Dissly caught 25 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns. Through six NFL games, he already has 14 catches for 218 yards and four scores, and he is still doing all the work as a blocker that the Seahawks were looking for when the selected him in the fourth round of the draft.
The mild-mannered Bozeman, Montana native credits his quarterbacks with making life easy on him, but there's no doubting that he has turned into a true threat in the passing game early in his NFL career.
"I've had really good quarterbacks growing up," Dissly said. "I had Will Weyer in high school and we won the state championship and was doing a lot of things on offense there. I had Jake Browning, one of the best UW quarterbacks arguably—he put the ball wherever it needed to be and now I'm here with the Seahawks, it's Russell Wilson. I don't know if it's me or them, I'm probably going to lean more on them. They're three really good guys. I just kind of do my job and whenever the ball's in the air, it's my job to go catch it. That's kind of what I focus on."
Of course, it's not quite a simple as Dissly makes it sound. His first touchdown catch last week showed not just good trust and ball placement from Wilson, who threw it high enough to avoid the linebacker covering Dissly and to the outside shoulder to make sure the safety coming to help wouldn't be able to disrupt the play, but also pretty impressive receiving skills and athleticism on Dissly's part to jump, adjust in the air and make a contested catch.
"Dissly and I were talking about him being from Montana, him playing defensive line, and then him switching over to tight end," Wilson said. "It's really a testament to the athleticism that he has, I mean he can do everything. He can really catch. His timing is remarkable. How he makes just plays, his catch radius is really special, he's physical, I think that's the defensive lineman in him. I think that's the hard worker in him."
Dissly still has a lot of long-term goals in front of him, including proving he can stay healthy for an entire season, but last Sunday's game against Pittsburgh was a big step in showing he is back from what can be a devastating injury.
"There's a lot of questions when you go down obviously," he said. "You don't really know if you're going to lose a step, if you're even going to play again, kind of those kind of questions. It was kind of a deep breath. It was a long, long journey for me and the athletic training staff and the strength staff, just working tirelessly for nine, 10, 11 months, and here we are now. It's just been a grind. It hadn't been easy in any step of the way, but having that moment of getting in the endzone and being back, winning games is the best feeling ever. I just love the game of football so much and I was just going to work so hard to get back that when positive things happen, it's definitely nice."