Tyler Lockett’s Seahawks debut was so sensational, it prompted coach Pete Carroll to come off the sideline and make an open-field tackle.
Seattle’s third-round draft choice showed with his first four touches of the ball why general manager John Schneider traded four draft choices to get him in May. “Rockett Lockett” took his second kickoff return back 46 yards. He fielded his third one three yards deep in the end zone, cut diagonally to his left and outraced every Denver Bronco to the end zone for the score.
That was the Seahawks’ only touchdown in the first 57 minutes of their 22-20 loss to Denver in the exhibition opener at soaked CenturyLink Field.
Carroll got so excited over Lockett’s touchdown lightning on a day filled with that in Western Washington that the coach comically jumped onto the field and into the sideline official — while the rookie with 4.3 speed from Kansas State was rushing by them at about the Denver 20-yard line. The fallen official, field judge Eugene Hall, recovered to throw a flag on Carroll for sideline interference, assessed after Steven Hauschka’s extra point.
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“I thought Lockett’s 83-yard touchdown was really good,” Carroll deadpanned. “I didn’t see the last 20 yards.”
Did Hall say anything to him?
“He didn’t apologize to me, no,” Carroll said.
If it had been a real game, Lockett would already own the record for longest kickoff return in the Seahawks’ 40-year history. Leon Washington ran one back 101 yards against San Diego on Sept. 26, 2010.
As for Lockett’s third job — besides already getting time as the No. 3 wide receiver on passing downs because of exquisite route running in training camp — he took his first punt return back 18 yards in the third quarter, to midfield. That set up Hauschka’s second field goal to trim Denver’s lead to 19-13.
Three returns, 167 yards. If Lockett can do that once the games get real Sept. 13 at St. Louis, the Seahawks will fix perhaps their most consistent weakness from last season and give their offense far better field position that it had in 2014.
Lockett said his debut, albeit an exhibition one, was even better than he of the ultra-high expectations expected.
“It’s a little bit more than I could have imagined,” he said. “Especially it being my first game.”
Yet it was exactly what the Seahawks schemed with the Washington Redskins to get back in May.
“He looked like we hoped he would look,” Carroll said. “We drafted him in an area we hoped he’d improve.”
Fellow top rookie Frank Clark, the team’s second-round pick from Michigan, was all over the field. He dropped a Bronco running back for a loss and forced fumble on his first play in the opening quarter, and into the fourth quarter the speedy defensive end was still pressuring the quarterback and living in Denver’s backfield.
The newbies’ play sure trumped that of Seattle’s in-flux starting offensive line. Its weakness the last two seasons, pass protection, continued. And incumbent starters had the most problems, contributing to Denver’s 240-29 edge in total yards in the first half.
As Carroll had hinted, the starters played two series. That included center Lemuel Jeanpierre, the backup to traded Max Unger the previous five years. Quarterback Russell Wilson led two drives and nine plays totaling 25 yards. He got sacked on Seattle’s second offensive play when Denver rush linebacker Von Miller sped past second-year right tackle Justin Britt for a sack while forcing a fumble the Broncos recovered at the Seattle 11. Denver got a quick field goal out of that.
On the second drive, after Lockett’s first long kickoff return, right guard J.R. Sweezy got driven back, left tackle Russell Okung got turned around and Wilson got dumped again. But the Seahawks recovered and with the help of Wilson’s only completion and attempted pass, to new tight end Jimmy Graham for 12 yards on a bootleg drag route, drove 28 yards for a field goal.
“We’ve got to get better,” Jeanpierre said, adding the line was slow and lacked consistent communication.
The one event every team fears in these glorified scrimmages is injuries. Seattle got three.
Super Bowl hero Chris Matthews sprained the AC joint in his left shoulder in the second quarter and could be out a while. The wide receiver scored some coaching points hustling down to cover a punt by Jon Ryan. Matthews arrived so quickly Denver returner Solomon Patton fumbled. Matthews dived left shoulder-first into Patton to try to recover the ball. He lay sprawled on the turf for a couple minutes, holding his left arm. Five fellow Seahawks receivers, plus injured cornerback Richard Sherman in street clothes, came on the field to assist and encourage Matthews. Doug Baldwin helped him off the ground.
Backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson entered late in the first quarter and played through the first drive after halftime. He completed one of six passes before leaving with a sprained ankle injury. Carroll said there is “concern” about the injury and that it may be at least two weeks before Jackson can practice. The coach wasn’t sure if that will prompt Seattle to go shopping for another backup QB.
The Seahawks didn’t score with Jackson in. Third-stringer R.J. Archer continued his spring- and summer-long struggles, losing a fourth-down fumble on a bootleg run at the Denver 10 in the third quarter. The former Arena League passer completed five of his first nine throws, two of them to former Washington Husky Kevin Smith for 43 yards on one drive in the third quarter.
Mohammed Seisay, the big cornerback Seattle acquired in a trade with Detroit this month, left with what Carroll terms a “slight” groin injury in the second quarter. He is the fourth cornerback injured, after Richard Sherman (hip flexor), Jeremy Lane (broken arm, knee surgery) and Tharold Simon (offseason shoulder surgery).
One of the Seahawks most on the spot in these four exhibitions is Christine Michael. Coaches have been waiting, almost pleading, for him to show consistency and maturity so they can finally begin to trust their second-round draft choice from 2013.
They are still waiting.
Michael entered behind Robert Turbin — starter Marshawn Lynch was on his normal summer hiatus — midway through the second quarter with Seattle trailing 12-10. Michael’s first five carries went for a total of 1 yard. Midway through the second quarter, he fumbled upon getting hit with a Bronco’s chopping arm motion and lost 9 yards on a second quarter attempt to run around left end.
To put more heat on Michael, undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls led Seattle with 31 yards on nine carries. He also had a slithery, 19-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Archer with 2:56 remaining.
“We’ve got to clean up a lot of things, obviously,” Carroll said. “We got hammered (up front).”