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Seahawks counting on Tyler Lockett to improve return game

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The Seahawks considered third-round pick Tyler Lockett the best kick returner in this year's draft. (AP)

RENTON – Seahawks coach Pete Carroll went on and on about everything Seattle saw in Tyler Lockett as a kick returner, saving what he considered to be the most important of those attributes for last.

“But I’ll go back,” Carroll said before reiterating a point he made last week after Seattle traded up to draft Lockett in the third round. “The most important thing about a returner, in particular a punt returner, is the attitude. He loves doing it, and it’s part of his makeup. You need that first. That’s a very, very challenging job, and it just doesn’t work out for guys who don’t have the right attitude. He’s got that.”

How seriously Lockett takes that job contributed to the Seahawks’ belief that they added the premier returner in this year’s draft, not to mention a wide receiver who broke Kansas State’s career records for receptions, yardage and touchdowns.

The very early returns on Lockett are promising. He was the star of Seattle’s three-day rookie minicamp, standing out for what he did on offense in addition to special teams whether he was blowing past cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage or weaving his way through traffic for big gains. He caught Carroll’s attention right away.

“I thought Tyler was all over the field catching balls and making plays,” Carroll said after the first practice on Friday.

But the Seahawks have left the clear impression that they’re most excited – at least for now – about what Lockett can provide in the return game, an area of considerable need.

Carroll has already said he expects Lockett to handle both punt- and kickoff-return duties from the start of the season, that despite a consistent and stated policy of not anointing starters before they earn their jobs in practice. And that declaration came after the Seahawks gave up four picks to climb 26 spots in the third round so they could select Lockett, a rare move for a team that had only traded up for a player once before in five previous drafts. That’s how much Seattle likes him.

“I always wanted to go to a team that believed in me, a team that wanted me and didn’t want to just get me because I was the next-best on their board,” Lockett said. “Obviously, they said they have plans for me but I have to live up to that.”

Lockett was one of college football’s most prolific returners during his four seasons at Kansas State. He averaged 28.5 yards per kickoff return for his career and led the nation with a 19.1-yard average on punt returns en route to earning All-American honors as a kick returner in 2014. He scored a combined six career touchdowns between the two.

There was plenty to like in addition to the staggering numbers. Carroll noted a few of the return skills Seattle saw in Lockett, like how cleanly he fields kicks, his ability to set up blocks and his vision once he reaches the open field.

“There’s a lot of knack there,” Carroll said.

And like Carroll, Seahawks special-teams coordinator Brian Schneider said Lockett approaches the job with the right attitude.

“He’s exactly what you want back there,” Schneider said. “I kinda compare him to the way Leon approached the return game. When Leon Washington was here with us, he loved it, he loved the challenge of it, he worked at it. It was a real challenge for him to get better at something almost every day, and you see those same qualities in Lock.”

Seahawks return production: 2010-2014
Year KR avg. Rank TD PR avg. Rank TD
2010 24.0 10 3 11.1 9 0
2011 24.8 10 0 11.0 10 0
2012* 27.1 2 1 8.5 23 0
2013 21.2 28 0 11.1 9 0
2014 21.0 30 0 7.0 25 0
*Leon Washington’s final season with Seattle

The Seahawks are hoping to see similar production from Lockett, too. They could use it with the way their return numbers have dropped off since Washington’s departure following his Pro Bowl season in 2012. Golden Tate was an effective punt returner in 2013, but Seattle averaged 4.1 fewer yards per return last season with Bryan Walters primarily handling those duties. Seattle ranked 28th and 30th the last two seasons in average kickoff return as a rotating cast of players took their turns without much success.

“We’re trying to get explosive plays. We really look at it as the first play on offense,” Schneider said. “We talk so much about field position and hidden yards. We talk about that with our coverage team, we talk about that with our return team. You’re looking for a plus-12-yard return on punt return and a plus-31-yard return on kickoff return, and once you do that you’re just maximizing the opportunities for your offense to score. What’s one more first down? You might get a field goal instead of punting.”

The Seahawks believe they’ve found the right man for the job in Lockett.

“It’s a very, very exciting aspect to add to our football team,” Carroll said. “It was not a very explosive part of our team last year and even in the last couple years. On kickoff returns we weren’t as good, either. We think that’s an obvious area where we can get some more explosive plays and just add to our opportunities to score and I think that makes us that much harder to deal with.”