Come, step inside the Seahawks huddle.
The smallest player on the field, the one who looks like everybody’s kid brother starts working his way around the Seahawks’ huddle, poking guys with his fingers, slapping them on the shoulders, trying to encourage them to summon whatever they have left inside for a final drive.
None of the offensive players have bathed themselves in glory this day, as they’ve managed a meager three points. But that’s part of Tyler Lockett’s message.
Nothing that came before makes any difference. There’s nothing that matters but the 1:53 on the clock and the 88 yards they have to travel to avoid an ignominious defeat to an L.A. Rams team that was so awful the week before that some wanted them shipped back to St. Louis.
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Everybody in that huddle is bigger than Lockett, and many have more experience, but everyone is attentive as he exhorts them.
On the next play, the line that had struggled stands fast, and the quarterback (Russell Wilson) who was hobbled stays strong in the pocket and lofts a rainbow pass toward Lockett.
Lockett had been out of the game with a knee sprained badly enough that his return was considered questionable. But there he was, releasing free against Rams cornerback Troy Hill.
In that moment, he went from questionable to unguardable.
Wilson’s pass was perfectly timed, but not perfectly placed, and Lockett has to, at full speed, turn from looking over his right shoulder to reaching over his left to catch it.
It was stunning that he had the speed (with the knee sprain) to gain the half step on Hill, and that he had the body control and ball-tracking ability to pull it in over the opposite shoulder.
Fifty-three yards later, Lockett and the Seahawks were in position to claim another comeback victory, a celebration denied by Christine Michael’s lost fumble three plays later.
The speed, the catch, and the toughness to be on the field with less than the normal complement of functioning joints are all things we’ve seen before from Lockett, the second-year receiver/returner.
But it was the vignette with the team in the huddle that illustrated something more compelling about Lockett — he’s gained a powerful voice of leadership earned through hard work and big-play ability.
Tackle Garry Gilliam eloquently described the meaning of that moment.
“He’s a great leader and he’s really passionate in everything he does — very committed to what he’s doing,” Gilliam said. “And that, in and of itself — by leading with his actions — puts him in that role.”
The long catch moments after his pep talk validated their belief in Lockett.
“To be able to go out there and perform that way is huge. In that moment, his competitive spirit, his drive to win and his passion for the game was something that came out. You could feel the raw energy,” Gilliam said.
Seahawks GM John Schneider swapped third-round picks and kicked in three other picks in ’15 to move up to draft Lockett. It was a bold and uncharacteristic move, but Schneider felt he was the best returner they could get. The scouts warned not to dismiss his ability as a receiver, though, even though he was undersized at 5-10, 182 pounds.
“He’s got the knack … the big-play nature about him,” coach Pete Carroll said on the day they drafted Lockett. “And his attitude is perfect for wanting to jump in here.”
It was clear from the start that Lockett adhered to the tenets of the Doug Baldwin School of Competitive Ferocity, and his work habits — long hours of film study and extra sessions catching the ball off the passing machine — got him labeled by Carroll as “one of the hardest-working (players) ever.”
The results as a rookie were somewhat astonishing as Lockett caught 51 passes, bounced back from half a dozen chillingly violent hits and became the only Seahawk to earn first-team All-Pro honors (returner).
At his locker this week, Lockett said that his toughness was a gift from God, and players have it or they don’t. But with it comes the responsibility to keep fighting and improving until he’s simply no longer able.
Gilliam said “it’s all about (Lockett) wanting to be the greatest, you can see it in his actions.”
And now, in those occasional critical moments that determine games, like the final minutes in Los Angeles, they also can hear it in his words.