At this time last year, while most of his teammates were enjoying a break between offseason workouts and training camp, Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett was a regular at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
Lockett was rehabbing the broken leg that ended his 2016 season, running not yet at full speed and doing mostly one-on-one work with team physical therapist Michael Tankovich, though he did sometimes have company in the form of cornerback DeShawn Shead, who was recovering from a knee injury.
Now, a year later, Lockett spent his spring and early summer "healthier than I've ever been," able to take part in offseason workouts with his teammates. When the team returns to action in late July for training camp, Lockett will be on the field preparing for what he and the team expects to be a big 2018 season.
"It's real positive, really positive," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "You guys have watched him, and he's just such a wonderful kid on your team, and there's just been a spirit about him about wanting to compete and extra stuff and always at it, and then last year he couldn't do that, he wasn't able to. He was rehabbing and just barely getting on the practice field for the most part. And now he's back freed up and ready to go again, so you see all that great spirit and the energy that he generates. It's wonderful to see because he's such a great kid."
While Lockett was able to get back for the start of last season and play in all 16 games, he wasn't quite all the way back from that injury. Lockett caught 45 passes for 555 yards, still a productive season, and he punctuated the year by returning a kickoff for a touchdown in the final game of the season, but he estimates he was playing at "about 75, 80-percent." Slowed by an old injury or not, Lockett didn't use that as an excuse, because the way he sees it, if he was on the field, he needed to produce.
"It didn't stop me from still going out there and doing my same job, the same role that I was given," he said. "Still was getting open against people. The thing is, it doesn't matter how you feel when you go out there. If you go out there, it's time to go. You can't make excuses if you don't get open. You can't make excuses if you don't catch the pass. If you're out there, everybody expects you to do the same thing if you weren't hurt."
Lockett added that playing last season at less than full speed, "taught me resilience, it taught me how to keep on fighting. Not everything is going to be good, you're not going to be 100 percent all the time, but you've got to find a way to do what you can to help the team be successful."
A fully-healthy 2018 is important not just for Lockett, who is heading into the final year of his rookie contract, but also the Seahawks, who are expecting big contributions out of the former third-round pick, especially with Paul Richardson leaving in free agency this offseason.
"He's really excited about getting back and digging in on returns as well as the receiver stuff," Carroll said. "He and (Russell Wilson), they really have a great understanding too, and he knows what we're doing and all. So he's a real positive part of our team."
As Carroll noted, Lockett is a big part of the Seahawks return game in addition to his role on offense, having served as the team's primary punt and kick returner since his rookie season, earning first-team All-Pro honors as a returner in 2015 as second-team honors the past two seasons.
Lockett handled those jobs well even playing at something less than 100 percent last year, and will be ready to do as much both on offense and special teams as necessary this year.
"That's something I've been doing my whole life," he said. "Kick return, punt return, receiver. To me, it's an opportunity. You never know how many times you're going to get the ball on offense but they still got to kick you the ball. If they're kicking touchbacks, they still got to punt you the ball. So it's different ways to get the ball in your hands to be able to try to make a play and try to go out there and do things. For me, it's something I've been doing my whole life. Even when I was in college, they had me out there doing kick return, punt return, the No. 1 receiver and I was on punt team. So whatever it is that my team wants me to be able to do, I'm going to make sure I do it and I'm going to make sure I'm not going to let my team down."
That being said, Lockett also recognizes that there could be a time when he is asked to take a break from his role on special teams to focus on offense, a scenario made more possible by the Seahawks' selection of running back Rashaad Penny in the first round of the 2018 draft. In addition to leading the nation in rushing last year, Penny was also a prolific kick returner throughout his career at San Diego State, returning seven kickoffs for touchdowns over the past three seasons. While Lockett will never pass up a chance to make a play in the return game, he also plans on helping Penny in that part of the game so that the Seahawks can be dangerous in the return game regardless of who is on the field.
"Whoever's back there, I want to help them be successful, I want to help them be their best," Lockett said. "… I'm trying to help him out, I'm trying to help him be the best he can be, help him feel comfortable out there. Whoever's back there, we want to be able to trust them and make sure they're ready, and that's my job, I'm a leader, I'm not going to be selfish, I'm not going to be doing any of that kind of stuff. I'm here to help and I'm here to get you ready."
Photos from the third and final practice of the Seattle Seahawks' mandatory minicamp on Thursday, June 14 at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.