Doug Baldwin retiring leaves the Seahawks with a huge void.
But also a huge opportunity for change.
This spring the 30-year-old Baldwin told his team he was going to retire following Seattle’s leading, Pro Bowl veteran wide receiver’s three surgeries this offseason.
Then this spring coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider drafted more wide receivers than the Seahawks had selected in 38 years--two really big (DK Metcalf, Gary Jennings) and three really fast ones (Metcalf, Jennings and John Ursua). Carroll explained his top goal this year was to take more advantage of Russell Wilson’s unique accuracy throwing deep passes.
“That was the number-one thing: we wanted to get fast, make sure we can compliment the stuff like running down the field,” Carroll said. “Take advantage of Russell’s ability to throw the ball down the field, which is awesome.”
So what’s that mean for the guy who calls Wilson’s plays?
What does Carroll’s stated goal of more downfield throws change for Brian Schottenheimer and his Seattle game plans in 2019?
So says Schottenheimer.
Close your eyes, new-age analyticals who think a team should run the ball about zero times a game in today’s NFL: Seattle’s offensive coordinator believes the Seahawks’ rushing offense, the top running game in the league last season, makes Seattle’s play-action passing (fake handoffs then throws) the best around.
“Well, obviously that’s always the objective, right? We want to run the football, be physical,” Schottenheimer said Tuesday after practice in Seattle’s final week of offseason organized team activities.
“I think we’re the best play-pass team in the league. I really do.”
The Seahawks ran the ball more and threw it fewer times than any other team in the league in 2018. Yet they were second in the league to the NFC-champion Rams in frequency of play-action action passes (33 percent of all pass plays, including scrambles, according to Pro Football Outsiders). Seattle was fifth in the NFL in yards per play-action pass (9.0). Its difference of 2.5 yards more per play-action pass than for all other passes was the league’s third-highest.
While throwing the fewest passes of any full-time NFL quarterbacks, Wilson had a career-high 35 touchdown passes and his most efficient season throwing of his career; his 110.9 passer rating was 10.6 points higher than his lofty career average.
“Russ’s ability to throw the ball deep down the field, that was evident last year the last eight games. We were, I think, top three or four (in the NFL),” Schottenheimer said. “He’s just got a great feel for it.”
And now he’s got greater weapons for it, too.
Tyler Lockett is taking Baldwin’s role as Wilson’s favorite, leading target and number-one receiver. Signed before last season to a three-year, $31.8 million extension, Lockett had a career year in 2018 with 57 catches, 965 yards (a gaudy 16.9 yards per reception, sixth-best in the league). Lockett’s 10 touchdown catches were tied for fifth-most in the NFL.
Lockett is the most likely Seahawk to take Baldwin’s role the past half-dozen years of inside, slot receiver on third downs and in passing situations, when Schottenheimer puts Seattle in three- and four-wide receiver formations.
Baldwin was one of the best in the NFL in the slot on third downs and near the goal line. Lockett has a ways to reach that level of production and expertise.
And he knows it.
In these OTAs extending into the team’s mandatory veteran minicamp next week, Lockett and Wilson are working before and after practices on the releases off the line of scrimmage, quick moves near the line and routes unique to the slot receiver.
But Schottenheimer wants to keeps opponents guessing this coming season. He intends--or at least says he intends--to move Lockett around, on edges and slots, on crosses routes, out routes, posts and gos. Like he’s done in previous seasons.
“The best weapon for us is when they don’t know where Tyler is going to be,” Schottenheimer said. “So we’ll move him around. He can do so many things so well. He’s sees the game instinctive(ly) so well that he’s a hard match-up.”
Lockett ended Tuesday’s practice with a post route blazing past double coverage. Wilson’s throw from about 50 yards was perfect, onto Lockett’s waiting hands in stride for a touchdown. Then three blasts from an air horn ended the 90-minute workout.
“I’m just ready for whatever,” Lockett said about a half hour later.
“I played on the outside my first four years. I’ve been playing in the slot every now and then when we put Doug on the outside. So for me it’s all about just being able to further my game wherever I’m at. Wherever I’m at, it’s all about trying to get open or get other people open. And that’s what it’s all about.
“A lot of people...some people in the league, they only know how to play one position. And to me that’s the fastest way to be out (of the league).
“So I want to be able to master every single thing.”
While the 5-foot-10, 182-pound Lockett adds inside, underneath routes as a slot receiver to his proven ability to run deep routes, the 6-4, 229-pound Metcalf is on the extremely fast (4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash) track to being Seattle’s new “X” wide receiver. That is, on the line of scrimmage opposite the tight end in most formations.
During scrimmaging Tuesday, Metcalf went up against reserve cornerback Simeon Thomas at the goal line. Backup quarterback Paxton Lynch threw a back-shoulder pass to Metcalf. The rookie didn’t effectively use his hulking body to wall off the slighter, shorter Thomas. Thomas knocked the ball away.
Later in the practice, Metcalf showed he’s a quick learner--and that his coaches are impressed by him enough to keep having passes thrown his way, two months into his NFL career.
Metcalf ran another route to the goal line along the right sideline, on undrafted rookie cornerback Davante Davis. Lynch’s back-shoulder throw arrived as Metcalf turned his head. This time he walled off Davis with his body. Metcalf deftly tapped the tops of both cleats inside the sideline while catching the ball for a far-more-graceful score than a 6-4, 230-pound guy should be able to make.
“A lot of talent. A lot of size. The size factor is definitely different than what we’ve been around here,” Schottenheimer said. “We see him developing. We see him getting better. We just had a little scrimmage and tried to throw a little fade to DK. He didn’t quite finish it.
“Came right back to it. Paxton made a nice throw on the outside. See him compete for the ball, that was good.”
Metcalf has impressed Lockett already.
“I think he’s way above what people from the outside expected him to be,” Lockett said of the wide receiver from Mississippi who was a national sensation before the draft for his physique and workouts.
Lockett said the rookie’s already savvy, such as in changing his releases off the line versus Seahawks defensive backs “every, single day” in practices.
Jennings, one of the team’s fourth-round draft choices this spring, played as a big slot receiver at West Virginia. But when they drafted him Carroll and Schneider talked more about the 6-1, 216-pound Jennings as another bigger vertical threat for Wilson to throw to down the field.
The Seahawks have yet to see Jennings on one of their fields. He’s been sidelined since the start of rookie minicamp in early May with a hamstring issue.
The 5-foot-9 Ursua, the seventh-round choice Seattle traded back into the draft to get, had a nation-leading 16 touchdown catches inside as the University of Hawaii’s slot receiver.
Veteran Jaron Brown is back for his second Seahawks season. Schottenheimer, Lockett and Wilson have talked how the offense didn’t utilize Brown as fully as it could and should have in 2018, when Brown had five touchdowns on just 14 receptions all season.
Amara Darboh is back with the team. Seattle waived its third-round pick from 2017 last summer, only to have him come back to the team and onto its injured-reserve list for last season. That was after he failed a physical with New England.
David Moore had four touchdown catches in three games last October. Then the seventh-round pick from 2017 disappeared the final two months of last season. If the Seahawks thought Moore was ready to be a bigger, more-consistent factor as an outside receiver this season they wouldn’t have drafted Metcalf and Jennings.
So, yes, the Seahawks have multiple options as they begin the post-Baldwin era.
None are nearly as accomplished, or influential, as their departed Pro Bowl veteran.
Coaches are promising a different, bigger, faster approach without Baldwin this year.
“You obviously got guys, like Tyler, who can stretch the field,” Schottenheimer said. “And then you add a size element like DK. David Moore coming back, he’s so much more comfortable right now. Last year he was kind of a one-position kind of guy. Now we’re moving him all over the place.
“It’s been cool to see those guys just take the next step. There’s obviously step-backs. There’s things that come up, like the play we talked about with DK. But we went right back to him and he made good on his promise to make that play.”