All fine for Nick Vannett: Tight end solves back pain, is Seahawks starter, kangaroo-court judge

It’s all fine for Nick Vannett right now.

Last season he was the Seahawks’ No. 3 tight end. Then in March Jimmy Graham signed as a free agent with Green Bay. Luke Willson left in free agency to Detroit. And Ed Dickson, the free agent from Carolina Seattle signed to a three-year contract to replace Graham, has yet to practice in training camp that’s in its third week.

Dickson has been out with a quadriceps injury; coach Pete Carroll says “it’s still a bit” before Dickson will be able to practice.

“It’s not happening,” Carroll said of Dickson’s recovery so far.

So it’s been Vannett and rookie Will Dissly from the University of Washington as the tight ends with the starting offense. Thursday, Vannett caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson early in Seattle’s preseason opener against Indianapolis.

Vannett is another example of how the Seahawks are so changed and younger from last season, when they failed to make the playoffs for the first time in six years.

Seattle’s third-round pick in 2016 from Ohio State is suddenly the longest-tenured Seahawks tight end. That status comes with perks—including being the chief assessor, judge and jury of the tight ends’ daily kangaroo-court fine system.

“The most common one is probably the ‘homeland fine.’ That’s probably the one I dish out the most,” Vannett said Monday following the 13th practice of Seahawks training camp at team headquarters.

The “homeland fine?”

“So for me, for example, if I were to wear anything Ohio, Ohio State, if I were to mention anything ‘Ohio,’ any city in Ohio, I get fined for that,” the native Buckeye said.

Tight ends coach Pat McPherson, 49, gets fined a lot for mimicking sound effects, especially during review of practice and game film.

“Ninety percent of his fines are from sound effects,” the 25-year-old Vannett said.

“We’ve got ‘Uncle Rico’ fines, where if you tell a high-school story that we all just really don’t care about, that’s a fine.”

That’s how coach McPherson also gets dinged for mentioning his playing days at UCLA and Santa Clara, or when he signed in 1993 as a rookie free agent with the San Francisco 49ers.

“We have a no-fine fine. I mean, if you go the whole day without getting a fine, you’re getting a fine,” Vannett said.

“That just goes to show, you are going to get fined.”

Seahawks tight end Nick Vannett pulls in a pass reception in front of Colts linebacker Darius Leonard during Thursday night’s NFL preseason game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Aug. 9, 2018. Tony Overman toverman@theolympian.com

The going rate for fines is $20 per infraction, with what Vannett called a $1,000 “initiation fine” for incoming rookies, depending upon whether they were drafted or undrafted free agents. The leader entering the third week of training camp? Dissly. By a lot. Vannett estimates the rookie was up to $2,700 in fines as of Monday.

The ultimate authority of assessing the fines says he’s probably at $2,000. Vannett is the collector and keeper of the fine money, too. He inherited that responsibility when Willson, the previous longest-tenured Seahawks tight end, left.

“Since I’ve been here the longest, I’m sitting in the throne now,” Vannett said.

“I mean, what I say, goes. Sometimes I run it (by those) in the room, if I’m on the fence. But usually what I say is a fine.

“I mean, hey, I’m a leader. So I’ve got to act like it, right?”

No, Vannett is not pocketing the cash to spend on the newest plasma televisions or whatever, either.

“It goes towards charity, at the end,” Vannett said. “We have peoples’ foundations that it goes to. Half of it goes to charity, and half of it goes to the tight ends’ trip at the end of the year.”

Vannett said the most common charities to benefit from the tight ends’ missteps have been those that benefit children.

“In the past we did it for cancer,” he said. “It’s always going toward a good cause.”

Vannett is rising to meet his increased opportunities in the Seahawks’ kangaroo count and on their field after two seasons marred by a herniated disk in his low back. He said getting into a three-point stance was often painful. That and his limited chances behind Graham and Willson in 2016 and ‘17 are why Vannett has just 15 receptions in 24 games so far in his career.

Before training camp began, Vannett finally got an accurate diagnosis for his pain. He also got a new exercise plan and physical therapy that avoided surgery. He says this is the best he’s felt in years.

His rise and return to full health are timely. They are coinciding with the renewed value and emphasis tight ends have in the Seahawks’ offense this year.

Graham and Willson were essentially wide receivers in tight-end alignment in the last past seasons under coordinator Darrell Bevell and line coach Tom Cable. Those two were down-filed pass catchers who blocked only when they absolutely had to. Vannett was the lone “blocking” tight end of those three.

New coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and new line coach Mike Solari have their tight ends being, well, tight ends. They are focal points in run blocking and in pass catching, particularly right now with lead wide receiver Doug Baldwin out indefinitely with a left-knee injury.

The Seahawks signed Dickson, for years the Panthers’ No.-2 tight end behind three-time Pro Bowl pass catcher Greg Olsen, because of his blocking ability. Dissly was regarded as the best-run blocking tight end in this draft. And Seahawks general manager John Schneider said at the time he drafted Vannett he did to have him be a more traditional “Y” end that blocks as well as catches.

“I love this offense,” Vannett said of Schottenheimer’s scheme. “They have the tight ends, they have us do a lot of things that we haven’t done before (here). In the run game we are doing a lot more gap (blocking) schemes. In the pass game, you know, there are a lot of plays where we are the No. 1 read. They are really trusting us to make big plays, in the pass game, in the run game, pass protection. We are a big factor on this team.

“That’s another thing for me. I just want to prove to the coaches and the rest of the team that they can count on us. ... That’s kind of a challenge to myself.”

One he hopes turns out to be as fun and rewarding as assessing and collecting all those fines.

Carson on the side

Mike Davis, the Seahawks’ starting running back at the end of last season after Chris Carson broke his leg and Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy failed, got more time with the starting offense Monday.

As he did, Carson was on the side with a trainer and recently injured wide receiver Amara Darboh, running from sideline to sideline on a different field.

Darboh was running at what appeared to be close to a full sprint. He’s been out for more than a week with a hip-flexor injury that has been spreading across the team like the flu.

Coach Pete Carroll did not speak to the media Monday. He’s the lone official source of injury information for players.

Kicking battle

A day after 40-year-old Sebastian Janikowski drilled all five of his field-attempts as deep as 53 yards during scrimmaging, Jason Myers missed two of four tries.

The 27-year-old Myers’ first two misses, from 33 and 43 yards, came after his holder Jon Ryan had to reach high and outside to collect off-target snaps from Tyler Ott.

Extra points

Frank Clark was full go in scrimmaging for the second consecutive day. These have been the starting defensive end’s first two full practice days since wrist surgery in June. ... Baldwin keeps coming to practice, stretching with teammates, going inside at the start of practice presumably to get some treatment then watching practice and advising teammates during it. He remains out indefinitely with a left-knee injury.. ... Rookie running back Rashaad Penny, the team’s top draft choice, left practice early but Schottenheimer said he thought Penny was OK. ... Running back C.J. Prosise (another hip flexor) remained out of pads watching practice for the second straight day. He missed the preseason opener. Carroll said Sunday Prosise has a chance to return to practice when the team gets back of the field Wednesday following an off day, and then a chance to play Saturday’s preseason game at the Los Angeles Chargers. ... With All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas’ holdout passing its 19th day with no end in sight and strong safety Maurice Alexander (yes, hip) still out injured, Bradley McDougald was the starting strong safety and Tedric Thompson was the free safety yet again. ... Byron Maxwell (hip again) remained out. Rookie Tre Flowers was again the starting right cornerback. Midway through practice, free-agent Jeremy Boykins, yet another Central Florida product in this camp, was the starting right cornerback for one drive. ... G J.R. Sweezy remained out because of an ankle he sprained in one of his first drills after he re-signed with the team Aug. 1. ... The Seahawks and USAA insurance hosted the 62nd Airlift Wing from Joint Base Lewis-McChord at practice. It included a flyover following drills. Carroll rallied the servicemen and women to the corner of the field where the players begin practice each day with a spirited bag drill.