With Seahawks training camp kicking off later this month, Seahawks.com is taking a look at 10 of the most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2023 season. Today, we kick things off with a look at special teams, and in particular at the options in the return game. Check back Tuesday for a look at tight end, a position group looking to build off a strong 2022 season.
Special Teams Key Additions: LS Chris Stoll (rookie free agent), several rookies TBD who will take on big special teams roles.
Special Teams Key Departures: RB/KR Godwin Igwebuike (unsigned free agent), LS Carson Tinker (unsigned free agent), LB Cody Barton (signed with Washington), RB Travis Homer (signed with Chicago).
For each of the past three seasons, and throughout most of Pete Carroll and John Schneider's tenure in Seattle, the Seahawks have thrived on special teams.
Longtime NFL writer and analyst Rick Gosselin, who is something of a special teams guru, has for years put together year end special teams rankings that take into account where teams rank in 22 different categories ranging from kick and punt returns to coverage to turnovers to penalties, and last season the Seahawks came in at No. 2 on Goesselin's ratings, their third straight season finishing in the Top 3 under special teams coordinator Larry Izzo.
With kicker Jason Myers and punter Michael Dickson both back, with many core special teamers returning, including captain Nick Bellore, and with a big rookie class expected to make contributions, the Seahawks will once again count on their special teams play to be a big factor in winning games.
But the Seahawks do still have some questions to answer during training camp and the preseason even if they like the overall direction of that unit. For starters, they'll have a new long snapper this season, having signed Chris Stoll as an undrafted rookie out of Penn State. Stoll, who last season won the Patrick Mannelly Award as the nation's top long snapper, is currently the only long snapper on the roster, but that doesn't mean he won't still have to earn his spot. Plenty of experienced long snappers are currently still available on the free agent market should the Seahawks seek to add competition, including the last two players to hold that job for Seattle, Tyler Ott and Carson Tinker.
The Seahawks also lost a pair of their top special teams players in free agency, linebacker Cody Barton and running back Travis Homer, so those considerable roles will need to be filled as well, very likely by young players, including a rookie class consisting of 10 draft picks and more than 20 undrafted free agents.
But while those core special teams players who do the tough jobs like covering kicks and punts or blocking on returns are very important, what might be most intriguing for fans during camp and the preseason is to see how things shape up with the kick and punt return roles.
For years, Tyler Lockett was one of the best in the league at both jobs, but as his value to the offense increased, he was eventually phased out of those roles—though he has handled the occasional punt return in recent years. Since then, several different players have rotated through those roles in recent years, including running back DeeJay Dallas, who last year was the team's primary punt returner while splitting kick return duties with the likes of Dee Eskridge and Godwin Igwebuike, the latter of whom is still a free agent.
Eskridge briefly took over that role on a more permanent basis before suffering a hand injury in Seattle's game in Munich, then Igwebuike settled in that spot late in the season and averaged an impressive 28.0 yards per return.
Schneider mentioned earlier this offseason that the team would like to have Igwebuike back—though that was before the team drafted a pair of running backs in Zach Charbonnet and Kenny McIntosh—so he could still be an option at some point if the Seahawks wanted to find a roster spot for him. Dallas, of course, remains a solid option who has the trust of the coaching staff, as does Eskridge, who was earning rave reviews for his overall play in offseason workouts.
Third-year corner Tre Brown returned kickoffs in college and has gotten some work in practice in the past, so he could be an option, as could other players with return experience like Kenneth Walker III and Easop WinstonJr., as well as several different rookies who had return experience in college, including McIntosh, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and undrafted free agents Montrae Braswell and Tyjon Lindsey.
Based only off of last season, the leading candidates heading into camp could very well be Eskridge on kick returns and Dallas on punt returns, but there are enough talented options that those two positions will be worth watching in camp and especially in preseason games, which provide the best chance to see return units in game action.
Take a look back at some of the best photos of Seahawks punter Michael Dickson from the 2022 season.