It's been almost eight years since the Seahawks were able to accomplish what Tyler Lockett did with his very first punt return at the NFL level in his team's 2015 regular season opener against the Rams in St. Louis.
Lockett, the Kansas State standout wide receiver/return specialist who the Seahawks traded up to select in the third round of this year's draft, took a first quarter punt back 57 yards for a score. It was the Seahawks' first punt return for a touchdown since Nate Burleson brought back a ball 94 yards for a score in 2007 against the Cleveland Browns.
"You give him that kind of space, he's going to do something with it," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said of Lockett's play after the game, a 34-31 Seahawks defeat in overtime. "You felt like halfway through the kick he was going to score because we've seen him do it already. That was really exciting."
The speedy wideout returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown in the preseason opener, followed that up with a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown in the preseason's third week, and capped a stellar exhibition season with a 63-yard touchdown catch in the team's preseason finale. But against the Rams on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, we got to see Lockett carry his early success onto the field in a game that, record-wise, actually mattered.
"For the most part I think we just had a simple return and like I've said, every day in practice, every day in the games, we always have the [first-team] out there and they block their butts off," Lockett said of his scoring effort that gave the Seahawks a 7-0 lead after a Steven Hauschka extra point. "That's really all you can ask for and they always do their job. I've just got to make sure I do my part, and I remember two [Rams] guys didn't even get off the line in the play, so it just says a lot about our punt return."
Lockett's effort against the Rams made him the first rookie to return a punt for a touchdown on a player's first-career punt return since Bryan McCann did it for the Dallas Cowboys back in 2010. The scoring play was also Seattle's first-ever punt return for a touchdown on the NFL's opening weekend.
"It's just all about instinct," Lockett said. "Just relying on going off your instincts. The biggest thing is I just try not to think too much. Just catch it and just go play."
Lockett said he treated Sunday's season-opener as his fifth NFL game, having already played in four preseason contests to date. It was an approach that helped the first-year player go into the highly-anticipated NFC West matchup with the Rams "no different" than the four games he played in last month.
"You knew it wasn't a fluke in the preseason," wide receiver Doug Baldwin said of Lockett's play at St. Louis. "When you watch football for a long time, you can tell the type of guys that are going to be good, that are going to be dynamic, that are going to be special in this League, and we knew it right off the bat when Tyler came in. Not only from a return standpoint, but from a receiver standpoint as well, so there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to be special."
While Baldwin, Carroll, and the Seahawks continue to dish high praise the rookie wideout's way, no one has greater expectations for Lockett than Lockett himself.
"I expect a lot out of myself," Lockett said. "Regardless of the expectation everybody else may have for me, my expectations are way higher. I just go out there and play."
The Seahawks opened up the 2015 regular season on the road at the St. Louis Rams, falling in overtime 34-31.