SEATTLE — Since the middle of last season, Seattle Seahawks players and staff have raved about wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.
Back then, the talk was mostly about potential and personality. Hard worker, a great guy in the locker room, his teammates said.
He made for a feel-good story, too, being a University of Washington and Lakes High product who landed with the team as an undrafted free agent.
Forget all that now; Kearse is proving himself to be a big-time playmaker, a legitimate NFL receiver and a dangerous special-teams player.
He scored two touchdowns in the first quarter of Saturday’s exhibition 40-10 victory over the Denver Broncos.
Those scores were in addition to his touchdown catch in the preseason-opening win in San Diego last week.
Kearse scored on a 12-yard pass from quarterback Russell Wilson on the first drive, and then returned a kickoff 107 yards for another score.
That Kearse would consider bringing the kickoff out from seven yards deep, and then zoom so confidently through the coursing Broncos, was but one of the examples of outrageous competitive audacity that make the Seahawks so entertaining – even in August.
The memo that exhibition games are meaningless apparently has never arrived in the Seahawks locker room.
And so we see cornerback Brandon Browner pick up a Denver fumble in his own end zone and, at a time when just staying down for a touchback is the prudent move, he rolls, rises, and sprints 106 yards the other way for another first-half touchdown.
Kearse left UW as second in school history in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. He sprinkled in the occasional drop among the notable big plays, and although he had the size (6-1, 209) and speed (4.43 40-yard dash), he went undrafted.
Recently, coach Pete Carroll cited Kearse for his versatility and quickness.
“He can play all three (receiving) spots, which is great,” Carroll said. “So, he’s a vital part of what we’re doing right now. He’s busted his tail and really come through. And he’s been tough as heck, too.”
The competition at receiver has been heated, with free agent Stephen Williams and rookie Chris Harper among those vying with Kearse for roster spots after Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and the recuperating Percy Harvin.
Harvin’s hip surgery has opened the way for Kearse not only in the receiving corps, but on kickoff returns as well.
On his scoring return, he had no apparent thought of taking a knee and angled off to the right side for what appeared to be a designed return to that side.
But when the coverage parted on his left, he cut toward that sideline, shrugged off kicker Matt Prater, and outran everybody else to the end zone.
Kearse never returned a kick in his four years at UW. But he stepped up and stung the Broncos for a score in his first try.
Going into this game, Carroll stressed the desire to see his first-team offense come out against Denver and play a “clean” game with no mistakes or penalties. Well, he’s going to have to wait another week.
But it didn’t seem to matter as the Seahawks scored anyway and moved the ball, forced turnovers and scored on those two stunning returns – all before halftime.
Once again, the Seahawks played without a number of key players, including tight end Zach Miller, defensive end Cliff Avril and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel.
But tight ends Luke Willson and Sean McGrath showed improvement, special teams were exceptional, and in a game that was surprisingly intense and hard-hitting for an exhibition, the Seahawks dominated physically even when the Denver starters were on the field.
It was Seattle’s seventh consecutive exhibition win, dating back to the final tune-up of the 2011 preseason. And if nothing else, these guys seem out to prove that the full price fans have to pay for exhibition tickets is actually worth the outlay.