The guy who scored the Seahawks’ first touchdown in their first game ever as defending Super Bowl champions didn’t come into the league like Percy Harvin — the 2009 NFL offensive rookie of the year.
Or even like the man he thought he was like at the time, a Hall of Famer from another lower-division college program in the Deep South.
“When I first got to the NFL, I thought I was going to be the next Jerry Rice,” said Ricardo Lockette, referring to the Mississippi Valley State alum and longtime NFL superstar pass-catcher.
Now in his fourth year, Lockette is a self-made NFL touchdown receiver. He’s a former undrafted rookie from west-central Georgia and a tiny Division II school, Fort Valley State, whose entire student body of about 3,500 would fit onto the grass spaces around the Seahawks’ lakeside practice facility.
Lockette has gone from focused only on catching passes that weren’t coming his way in 2011 and ’12, to a relentless flier and hitter on Seattle’s special teams last year, to a receiver his quarterback thinks will change games this season — perhaps again Sunday when the Seahawks (1-0) play at San Diego (0-1).
Darrell Bevell, the offensive coordinator who called Lockette’s 33-yard touchdown catch last week, calls Lockette’s growth “amazing.”
“He’s come so far from where he was, just being able to line up correctly, line up on the ball, off the ball,” Bevell said. “I mean, those were some of the things we were teaching him when he first got here.
“Now you see him making plays all over the place. … His understanding of the game and what we’re trying to do is huge from where he was. He’s not even the same guy. He’s a completely different player.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson entered the league in 2012 the opposite of Lockette, as a highly touted, Rose Bowl-winning draft pick. With the Seahawks down 7-3 in the first quarter against Green Bay in this season’s opener, Wilson faked a read-option handoff to Marshawn Lynch. He and Lockette both saw the cornerback rush up to play Lynch’s run, and both read it the same way. Lockette ran behind the onrushing corner for that 33-yard touchdown pass. Seattle never trailed again in its 36-16 win.
It’s a play Lockette wouldn’t have made — wouldn’t even have been in the game to make — a year or two ago.
“He’s a guy that’s a big-time playmaker for us,” Wilson said. “I believe that that will be this year, as you saw in the first game.”
Lockette is the team’s No. 4 wide receiver, behind Harvin, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, and he’s still blowing up punt and kickoff returners with his lighting speed.
Last month, special teams coach Brian Schneider timed Lockette in a 40-yard sprint at the start of covering a kickoff at 3.93 seconds.
“That’s the fastest I’ve ever had,” Schneider said.
Sure, that’s with a moving start off a kickoff. But consider the fastest 40-yard dash ever recorded at the NFL combine is 4.24 seconds by running back Chris Johnson in 2008. Or that most see anything near 4.0 flat as an extraordinary time for a running-start 40.
Now Lockette’s become yet another of Seattle’s fast receiving threats, someone else for whom the Chargers had better have a plan to cover.
No foe needed a plan for Lockette before now. He had a grand total of eight catches in three seasons before this one — two with Seattle and 2012 spent on San Francisco’s practice squad.
“I think it’s about making the most of the opportunity. I wouldn’t say it’s being more or less a part of the offense,” he said. “I’m just trying to capitalize more on the opportunities that are presented.”
“Now, it’s a totally different focus, a totally different dedication,” he added. “I just learned from my mistakes. You can tell a child not to touch the stove because it’s hot, but they won’t learn until they touch.
“I’ve been burned a couple times. I’ve learned.”
Lockette was a burner, not a burn-ee, when he first entered the league, but all he wanted to do was run and catch. Technique? The next Jerry Rice didn’t need to work on technique.
“Just the small things, man, focusing on being bigger, faster instead of focusing on the small things,” he said. “Like splits, or conversions against different coverages.”
He’s more of a target now simply because he is doing what he is supposed to do on pass routes. In Lockette’s third season with the Seahawks, the team now trusts him.
Then again, it’s not like Lockette had a USC- or Alabama-like pedigree of meticulous fine-tuning and rearing before he got to Seattle in 2011.
“I came from Fort Valley State, man, where, shoot, our offense was pretty simple,” he said. “It was one through nine, like the route tree. One is a simple hitch. Two is a slant. So you go up to the line you know you got ‘Strong Right, 389,’ you know you’ve got an out, a post and a go.
“I got here and you got ‘Omaha! Omaha!’ It’s like, ‘Oh, here we go!’
“I’m just excited that I had an opportunity and they gave me a chance to keep progressing.”
Many young wide receivers from small colleges never get that chance, because they think their only way into the league is to star in the offense. That’s a chance few, if any, get in the first weeks of their first NFL summer.
“A lot of guys think that way and they are out week 4 of training camp. And I’m still here,” he said. “I definitely don’t take that for granted at all.
“I came in not wanting to be on special teams. I said to coach (Pete Carroll), ‘What does it take to stick on the team?’ And he said, ‘Find a place on special teams.’
“So I dedicated myself to special teams. Once special teams started to break through for me, they presented me with a play here, a play there. That opened opportunities for me to be successful.”
So is he glad at finally becoming known more as a wide receiver than a tackler on special teams?
“Not really one of my concerns,” Lockette said flatly. “It’s about putting the team in the best positions to be successful. As far as me being known or not known, I don’t really care.”
Then he pointed to three locker nameplates from February’s Super Bowl that he keeps in his cubicle at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
“I just want to try to repeat,” he said. “That’s our No. 1 goal.”