With Seahawks training camp kicking off next week, Seahawks.com is taking a look at 10 of the most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2021 season. Today, we wrap things up with a look at special teams, which was a team strength last year and figures to be again in 2021.
How good were the Seahawks on special teams last season? Consider that they had two special teamers make the Pro Bowl last season, neither of which were the kicker who didn't miss a field goal all season, or the punter who led the NFL in punts downed inside the 20 and ranked in the top three in average and net average yards per punt, or the linebacker who finished second in the league with 16 special teams tackles.
No, Jason Myers, Michael Dickson and Cody Barton did not earn special teams honors despite fantastic seasons, but fullback Nick Bellore and long snapper Tyler Ott did both receive well-deserved Pro-Bowl recognition as part of a special teams unit that was, under first-year special teams coordinator Larry Izzo, one of the league's best in 2020.
Analytics site Football Outsiders had the Seahawks ranked third in special teams play in their end-of-season DVOA rankings, while Rick Gosselin's annual special teams rankings, which are based on teams' rankings in 22 different special teams categories, had Seattle ranked second in the NFL.
"Look at our kickers, man, our kickers were phenomenal this year," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in his end-of-year press conference. "I haven't mentioned Jason Myers; I didn't talk about him at all because he had that streak going, so we just stayed away from it, but what a great, great season he had. Mike's a great player too."
While the offense struggled late in the year to maintain its torrid first-half pace, and the defense started slowly then finished strong, special teams was the most consistent part of Seattle's play last season, contributing to an NFC West championship season from Week 1 through the end of the season.
"This is as consistent as we've been," Carroll said late last season on his team's performance on special teams. "… It's a really positive part of our team."
And heading into the 2021 season, the Seahawks are expecting to be just as good, if not better, when if comes to special teams. All three specialists, Myers, Dickson and Ott, are back, with Dickson adding a multi-year contract extension in the offseason. Bellore is also back having re-signed as a free agent. Among the core special teams players also returning are Barton, Ben Burr-Kirven, Ugo Amadi, Ryan Neal, Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas.
Two of Seattle's three draft picks this season, receiver D'Wayne Eskridge and cornerback Tre Brown, were also special teams standouts in college and should factor in there, whether in the return game or on coverage units.
And speaking of the return game, while the Seahawks are fully expecting special teams play be a strength this season, they are heading into camp with a bit of mystery surrounding the return game. For years, Tyler Lockett was entrenched as the team's kick and punt returner, but as his role on offense continued to grow until he eventually became a legit No. 1 receiver, those duties have shifted to other players in order to keep him fresh. The Seahawks tried several players in both roles last season, including cornerback D.J. Reed, who was explosive in both kick and punt return duties, as well as Homer before his injury, and David Moore, who left in free agency.
Reed very well could handle one or both of those jobs in 2021, but he also has a good chance of winning a starting job at cornerback, and if he is indeed an every-down player on defense, the Seahawks could look to limit his workload on special teams. If that were to be the case, that could open the door for either Eskridge or Brown to step into those roles. In addition to Homer, receiver Freddie Swain also has kick return experience, and undrafted rookie receiver Connor Wedington was an accomplished return man at Stanford, so perhaps return duties could be his best bet for earning a spot on the roster.
But regardless of who ends up handling return duties this season, the Seahawks can head into camp knowing that they can again count on outstanding play from their special teams units.
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