RENTON — Even dreadlocks aren’t safe when Jeremy Lane is zooming downfield in punt coverage.
St. Louis Rams returner Janoris Jenkins and his sprawling tubes of hair learned this when Lane reached out in Week 8 to snag Jenkins on a punt return. Lane ended up with a handful of hair, but stalled Jenkins long enough for the Seahawks’ second man in to make the tackle.
“That was the first guy I ever did that to,” Lane said. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t even know until I saw the film.”
Quietly, Lane is having a spectacular season as a gunner in punt coverage. In his second year out of Northwestern State (La.), Lane has helped the Seahawks to one of the most staggering statistics of the NFL season.
Punt returners are averaging 1.4 yards per return against Seattle. That’s the lowest mark in the league. The next closest (St. Louis at 3.2) is more than twice as much.
Rangy, fast and spirited, the 6-foot, 190-pound Lane has a lot to do with the scrunched number.
He played special teams throughout college while also starting at cornerback.
The Seahawks picked him 172nd overall in the 2012 NFL draft. Considering his draft position and the Pro Bowl cornerbacks already on the team — Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner — Lane had to find a way to stick.
On to special teams.
“I look at it as a way of playing,” Lane said. “I am trying to get on the field any way I can. Ever since I was a little kid, that’s what I thought about. For the NFL, fortunately, that was the special teams. It keeps me on the field, so, I love it.”
Lane isn’t sure who he is watching when he looks back at tape of himself from his rookie season. He made five special teams tackles in 2012 and already has seven this season, which ties him for the team lead with special teams captain Heath Farwell. All seven are solo tackles.
Each week, Lane devises a plan with special teams coaching assistant Nick Sorensen. They track if other teams tend to use an outside “vice” to double-team the gunner or leave him with a single blocker.
Like a boxer, Lane tries to develop counter moves. He jab steps outside, then cuts up and in. He varies angles. Whatever gets him off the line of scrimmage rapidly.
“Win at the line of scrimmage. I’d say that is the big key,” Lane said. “Once you win at the line of scrimmage, everything else is reacting.”
Special teams coordinator Brian Schneider is thrilled with Lane because Lane is excelling in three phases: getting off the line of scrimmage, general effort, then tackling at the end.
“His effort to get to the ball just jumps out on tape,” Schneider said.
Though his name has come up as a contender to make the Pro Bowl, Lane isn’t on the official ballot. Farwell is Seattle’s special teams candidate.
Which means Lane will continue his business with quiet efficiency and joy. And, at times, a handful of hair.
SEAHAWKS’ NEXT OPPONENT
Minnesota Vikings (2-7)
1:25 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field, Seattle
Against the Seahawks: This is the 13th regular-season meeting between the two teams. The Seahawks lead the series 7-5. The last time the two teams met, Seattle won, 30-20, on Nov. 4, 2012, in Seattle.
Stats and stuff: The Vikings are going through quarterbacks like Adrian Peterson goes through would-be tacklers. Minnesota is 25th in passing yards per game and has used three quarterbacks. It signed enigmatic Josh Freeman on Oct. 8 and made him the starter. That lasted one atrocious game. Christian Ponder lost, then regained his starting quarterback job, but is questionable for this Sunday because of a shoulder injury. If Ponder can’t play, the Vikings will turn to Matt Cassel. Peterson is on his way to his sixth 1,000 yard-plus rushing season in seven years. The only year he didn’t pass 1,000 yards rushing was 2011 when he played 12 games and finished with 970 yards when he tore his ACL and MCL in his left knee. ... Peterson was the NFL MVP the next season. ... The Vikings have eight passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions combined among the three quarterbacks they have used. ... Jared Allen, who was briefly rumored to be a trade target of the Seahawks, leads the Vikings with five sacks. ... Linebacker Erin Henderson leads the Vikings with 87 total tackles, which is sixth in the NFL. ... Former Seattle tight end John Carlson has 18 catches for 159 yards for the Vikings. ... Minnesota’s leader in receiving yards, Jerome Simpson (491 yards), was arrested for drunken driving last weekend. He says he expects to play Sunday.
Quotable: “It’s always disappointing when there’s negative light brought to our organization of any kind.” — Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier on Simpson’s DUI arrest VIKINGS SCHEDULE
Sept. 8at DetroitL, 34-24
Sept. 15at ChicagoL, 31-30,
Sept. 22ClevelandL, 31-27
Sept. 29PittsburghW, 34-27
Oct. 13CarolinaL, 35-10
Oct. 21at N.Y. GiantsL, 23-7
Oct. 27Green BayL, 44-31
Nov. 3at DallasL, 27-23
Nov. 7WashingtonW, 34-27
Nov. 17at Seattle
Nov.24at Green Bay
Dec. 8at Baltimore
Dec. 22at Cincinnati