Seattle Seahawks

How a 74-year-old guru made rookie DK Metcalf “maybe even more unique” than Seahawks thought

DK Metcalf is tall, young and sculpted. The 21-year-old’s calf muscles look like a bodybuilder’s biceps. Or shoulders.

Jerry Sullivan is not tall. He is not young. While he’s no sloth, he is not, um, sculpted. His calf muscles look like that of a 74-year-old man.

Which is what he is.

So when Metcalf’s new agents sent the hulking, speedy wide receiver from Mississippi this winter to Sullivan to prepare for entering the NFL wasn’t Metcalf a tad skeptical that this grandpa standing before him for the first time could help him improve his running and catching? How could this guy improve Metcalf from already being an internet and scouting-combine sensation for his unique body?

Heck, Metcalf had never even heard of the 45-year veteran of NFL and college coaching before they met a couple months ago at the sprawling EXOS elite training complex in Phoenix.

“No, sir,” Metcalf said.

So how did Metcalf come to not only listen to Sullivan but exponentially improve his skill at being an NFL-ready wide receiver, which he proved to coach Pete Carroll and just about everyone else with eyes this weekend at the Seahawks’ rookie minicamp?

“Well,” Metcalf said, “as soon as he told me to the receivers he’s coached I bought in immediately.

“Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin he spoke on a lot.”

sullivancardinals
Jerry Sullivan, a 74-year-old veteran coach who many consider a guru and even a “legend” for his work with wide receivers, works with 11-time Pro Bowl veteran Larry Fitzgerald (11) and other Cardinals receivers during a minicamp in Arizona this spring. Photo from the Arizona Cardinals

Fitzgerald and Boldin have 14 Pro Bowl selections between them. Fitzgerald, 35, and about to embark on his 16th NFL season, may be a first-ballot Hall of Famer five years after he retires.

So, yes, that got Metcalf’s attention.

Credibility more than established, Sullivan proceeded to teach Metcalf the finer points of running routes. At Ole Miss, he just ran past and jumped over people to catch passes. Being 6-feet-4 and 229 pounds able to run 40 yards in 4.33 seconds afforded Metcalf a gigantic-as-he-is advantage over college defensive backs.

That physical advantage only takes a receiver so far in the NFL, where cornerbacks are the world’s best in using hands, footwork and angles to gain edges on raw, taller pass catchers.

If they weren’t, the cornerbacks in the league would all be 6-5 by natural selection.

What specifics did Sullivan teach Metcalf this offseason, before Seattle traded up with New England to the bottom of the second round to draft him last week?

“How to run routes, basically,” Metcalf said. “How to stay straight as long as possible. How to break down....Don’t lean into my routes, or don’t try to stay straight as long as possible, when I break down be decisive in doing that.

“Then, make every route look the same when you come off the ball.”

Metcalf did that and more this weekend as the most attention-grabbing of the Seahawks’ 11 draft choices, 12 undrafted free agents and 44 tryout players in their rookie minicamp that ended Sunday.

He moved his feet more quickly and effortlessly in and out of breaks than a man his size should be able to.

Then again, he did have the fastest 10-yard split time in the 40-yard dash at the league’s annual scouting combine in Indianapolis this winter.

Metcalf was the first “X” receiver out wide on the line when the offense scrimmaged against the defense. He was the first wide receiver in position drills, working his footwork in getting off the line and into his route.

At one point during Friday’s drills rookie tryout cornerback Dejuan Neal, four inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter, lined up man to man directly across the line from Metcalf. Neal was so concerned about getting burned deep by Metcalf he turned his shoulders left, began running back toward his own goal line and went from head up to 4 yards ahead of Metcalf.

That all happened before the ball was even snapped. And Metcalf still beat the bailing cornerback, plus the safety, on a deep post route. He blew by them like they were fence posts, splitting both of them 50 yards down the field.

“Maybe (he’s) even more unique than we thought coming in,” Carroll said.

The always-sunny Carroll raved more about Metcalf than he has about perhaps any other rookie on his first day over his 10 seasons coaching the Seahawks.

He was still going on about Metcalf after the minicamp ended Sunday.

“He had a great weekend. He really did,” the coach said. “He had the opportunity to catch balls of all different kinds all over the field. Down the field of course, he was really comfortable with all the long-ball stuff. Everything we did with him, he was very comfortable with.”

For Seahawks coaches, this weekend dispelled a common belief about Metcalf, one some see as a reason no team selected him in the first round, or with one of the first 63 choices in the draft before Seattle came up to get a physical specimen Carroll could not pass up. Many saw Metcalf’s work at Mississippi as elementary, that Ole Miss’ relatively simple concepts in its spread offense didn’t require Metcalf to prove he could run all the routes NFL receivers must to produce consistently..

After one weekend with Metcalf, Carroll has a thought about that.

Whatever.

“I know that everybody’s wondering about this route-tree thing and all that. And I don’t see that being a factor,” Carroll said Sunday. “He looks like he’s very well-versed, been coached.

“And I’ve said before (on Friday), he had really good work that he did since the season was over with the guys that he worked with. Jerry Sullivan is an extraordinary coach. And (Metcalf) came in here ready to go and in good shape and he ran fast and he looked good, hung through all of it.

“So it’s really an exciting first introduction.”

Metcalf asked Carroll when the coach called him to tell him the Seahawks were drafting him: What took you so long to call? He waited through the entire first round on a Thursday, then all but the final pick in round two on Friday. People had been telling him he’d be drafted in round one.

Metcalf went 13 spots after Ole Miss teammate and fellow wide receiver A.J. Brown went at 51st overall, to Tennessee.

“People have different reasons for why I fell in the draft,” Metcalf said. “But at Ole Miss, shout out to our (offensive coordinator, Phil Longo), because he used our abilities to the best way that he felt he could. He knew that I could go deep and A.J. could be the over-the-middle guy. He was just working with what he had.”

Now the Seahawks are working with what they have: an extraordinary physical talent who has recently sharpened his skills to be NFL-caliber.

The Seahawks also found another of Metcalf’s college teammates. Floyd Allen, a third wide receiver at Mississippi behind Brown and Metcalf, excelled in his route running and quick changes of direction in this minicamp. He was there on a tryout.

Allen may be back for Seattle’s training camp in late July.

Asked Sunday about Allen in particular, Carroll said: “Well, I was really impressed with this entire group. The whole group of catchers, they made plays throughout and they kind of--you saw some (Sunday)--he has made a couple of good plays.

“But there’s a bunch of other guys, too. So we liked this group and they make it difficult on us to figure out who to give the shot coming to camp. So, they did very well by themselves. And the tough decision is a good decision.”

Metcalf clarified the proper way to write his first name is DK, without abbreviating periods, though the letters stand for his given name, DeKaylin.

He said he learned this past week the Seahawks are “very straightforward and honest. And they love football here.

“I feel like it’s a great fit for me because they like to compete — and so do I. So they just hit it off that in order to make it here, you’ve just got to compete.”

A caveat to all the love this weekend for the wide receivers: They always look smooth in May. These minicamps have no pads and no hitting. The league’s collective bargaining agreement prohibits defensive backs from making plays on ball in this heavily regulated phase of the offseason.

So, yes, wide receivers make almost all the catch and look good.

Still, Metcalf and Allen looked great.

Sullivan’s work with Metcalf looked more than fine, too.

“Just working on my craft, each and every day,” Metcalf said. “The DBs we have here are great, so they’re giving me work and I’m trying to give them the same work back. So it was great just to work on my craft after the draft, after the combine, after declaring for the draft.

“So it’s really paying off.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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