Needing to add a spark to their special teams after the season-ending injury to Tyler Lockett, the Seattle Seahawks think they’ve signed the ultimate wild card threat for the NFC playoff wild card round.
Devin Hester isn’t your normal free agent — he holds 10 NFL return records, including the most career special-teams touchdowns with 20.
He carries an unmatched reputation as a game-changer.
Seattle signed Hester on Wednesday and immediately added him to the active roster. Reserve safety Tyvis Powell was waived to open up the spot.
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“No. 1, I always go, ‘Who don’t you want to play against?’ And I’ve never enjoyed playing against him,” Seahawks special teams coordinator Brian Schneider said. “And I would assume most special teams coaches would say that, because he is such a threat, and he affects different things — affects the way you punt the ball and kick the ball.”
The question is: At 34, does Hester still have the speed, moves and hands for the job?
Coming off turf-toe surgery, Hester was released by Atlanta last summer — the team with which he scored his last touchdown on a punt return in 2014.
Baltimore signed him to a one-year, $1.1 million deal right before the start of this season, and he played in 12 games.
But Hester had his issues with the Ravens. He averaged 7.2 yard per punt return — below his career average of 11.7 yards — and registered only two punt returns of 20 yards or longer. He had five fumbles, losing one in a game against Jacksonville.
Hester let a punt roll by him early in Baltimore’s 30-23 loss at New England on Dec. 12. The punt was downed at the 1-yard line, which led to a safety for the Patriots. Hester was released the next day.
He did better on kickoff returns, averaging 24.5 yards per return, nearly equaling his career average of 24.9 yards.
Hester attributed the miscues to “lack of concentration on the ball, at times,” as well as to nagging injuries, notably a balky hamstring.
Days after his release, he worked out for New England, but the Patriots instead opted to sign wide receiver Michael Floyd, who had been dropped by Arizona following a DUI arrest.
Two weeks later, relaxing at home in Florida, Hester — who was only interested in signing with a playoff contender — received a phone call from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
“I told Coach Pete, he finally gave me a scholarship,” Hester said. “He was the only college (USC) that did not offer me a scholarship when I was in high school (at Palm Beach Gardens in Florida).”
Hester, a four-time Pro Bowler, is expected to take over as the primary Seahawks returner on kickoffs and punts.
“To get released, and get an opportunity to be back in the playoffs, my goal now with the career that I have had — I don’t have a Super Bowl ring,” Hester said. “What a great opportunity I have right now … playing for the Seattle Seahawks.”
SHERMAN GOES SILENT
Still protesting all the negative attention he received over his sideline blowup with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman shrugged off media interview requests at his locker.
As he tied up his cleats for practice Wednesday, Sherman made sure to mention the only interview he was granting all week was to ESPN sideline reporter Ed Werder.
Sherman said he would offer more thoughts through social media, including his personal website.
“Sherm is always focused, despite what distractions might be going on around him that he himself might have created,” Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “He always seems to find a way to center himself and focus on the task at hand.”
TATE HEARS FROM ‘12s’
Even though he is in his third season with Detroit, wide receiver Golden Tate is a target of criticism “from very ignorant people” for leaving the organization that drafted him in 2010 — Seattle.
For the most part, Seahawks fans are still supportive — even this week before the NFC wild card game against the Lions at CenturyLink Field.
“A lot of people reached out on my social media … and say, ‘Hey, you are my favorite player, I am excited to see you come back to town, but unfortunately I am going to have to root for the Seahawks, but I will be wearing your Seattle jersey.’ ” Tate told Detroit-area media. “It is always good to have somewhat of a legacy like that.”
Long snapper Tyler Ott has been with the Seahawks for two days, but he seems to be gaining in trust and comfort with key special-teams personnel, including punter Jon Ryan.
“Some guys take a little longer to get used to than others,” Ryan said. “But Tyler came in yesterday, and I felt like we had been working together for a long time.”
Ryan said Ott’s snap velocity is similar to that of Nolan Frese (ankle), who was put on injured reserve this week.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on Wednesday praised Lions counterpart Matthew Stafford’s toughness for playing with a fractured finger on his throwing hand. Wilson was asked the difference in feeling the football while wearing a glove — like Stafford has done — over using a bare hand. “I like the connection of the ball with the hand. That is what I’ve done ever since I was little,” Wilson said. “It feels different when you are following through (wearing a glove).” …
The Seahawks listed a new injury Wednesday — defensive tackle Tony McDaniel (concussion), who did not practice. Defensive end Michael Bennett and tight end Jimmy Graham also did not practice as part of their normal day of rest. … Stadium officials painted the official NFL wild card logo on CenturyLink Field on Wednesday.