Seattle Seahawks

One play from debut game shows Seahawks rookie DK Metcalf is connected with Russell Wilson

Rookie wide receiver DK Metcalf recaps experience of first Seahawks game

The Seattle Seahawks edged the Cincinnati Bengals, 21-20, on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash.
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The Seattle Seahawks edged the Cincinnati Bengals, 21-20, on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash.

Wearing a Steve Largent throwback jersey into and out of his first NFL game shows, yeah, DK Metcalf gets it.

metcalflargent

“Just knowing he was a good wide receiver here,” Metcalf said in understatement about why he chose to wear the old jersey of Seattle’s Hall of Fame wide receiver from its original, expansion team 43 years ago..

“And I’m just paying homage.”

But more important for these Seahawks than the rookie’s brilliant fashion stroke: One, telling play in his debut last weekend.

It shows Metcalf gets Russell Wilson.

The statistics from Seattle’s 21-20 escape past Cincinnati in the season opener say Metcalf had four catches for 89 yards. It was the most yards ever for a Seahawks rookie receiver in his first game. The guy whose team rookie record he broke by 3 yards? Largent, in the franchise’s expansion season of 1976.

The stats also show Metcalf had six targets from Russell Wilson, the most passing looks for a Seattle wide receiver.

But the play that reveals far more shows Metcalf is already a prime force in Wilson’s mind and in the offense. It came late in the third quarter, with the Seahawks trailing 17-14.

They had a third and 5 at their own 41-yard line. Cincinnati’s front four defensive linemen often had blown up Seattle’s offensive line en route to sacking Wilson four times and hitting him nine other times. But this time the Bengals did something else. They rushed only two defensive linemen. They dropped nine into coverage. Wilson did what he usually does. He scrambled around the pocket and toward to line to buy more time for his receivers to get open against all the coverage.

Metcalf had been assigned a slant route, short. He saw Wilson run, so the wide receiver did, too, straight down the hash marks on an impromptu go route past Cincinnati’s B.W. Webb. Wilson softly lofted a pass over Webb in stride onto Metcalf’s hands. The 6-foot-4, 229-pound rookie out-fought Webb for the ball—just plain wanted it more, really. Metcalf then held on to the catch through a low, hard hit from a late-arriving safety for a 25-yard gain.

One Germain Ifedi holding penalty later, Wilson threw 44 yards to Tyler Lockett for what proved to be the winning points, on the first play of the fourth quarter.

“There’s really nothing he can’t do,” Wilson said, for about the sixth time this summer, about his rookie receiver.

Receivers rarely make that play in their rookie season. None do in their first NFL game. It’s a veteran-savvy move Wilson would coordinate with the same look he gave Metcalf to now-retired Doug Baldwin or Lockett, Baldwin’s replacement this year as the offense’s veteran number-one wide out.

“I think most rookies don’t recognize things as fast as fast as DK did in that first game,” Wilson said. “I thought that he saw things. He saw me scrambling, reacted quickly. He’s got a great response there.

“That really showed up in practice, though. I noticed it the first few days we practiced. I scrambled a couple times, and he came back to me. He ran down the field. He came across the field.”

Such improvisation by wide receivers is essential in the Seahawks’ offense that continues to have issues with pass protection. Wilson’s biggest plays this season are likely to again come after he scrambles to get away from pressure and extend plays; it already happened with Metcalf in week one. Wilson’s targets need to stay on task and change plans to finish those big plays, and to thus win games.

It already happened with Metcalf in week one.

“He works hard,” Wilson said. “I think all those things in terms of scrambling, is really just instincts, and playing football and trying to run to the open spot. It’s also effort, having great effort.”

Quarterback Russell Wilson characteristically saw many positives in Seahawks’ opening escape past Bengals.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer chuckled over Metcalf’s play that, like his first-game wardrobe, was beyond the rookie’s 21 years.

“I can’t say that the lob shot down the middle of the field with the post safety was something that we worked on and designed,” Schottenheimer said Thursday. “You can actually see DK look and see the safety and go, ‘Oh, this is going to hurt.’

“But he (Wilson) trusts him. And he’s earned that over the process of OTA’s, training camp, and it’s cool to see.”

Play caller Brian Schottenheimer: no one with Seahawks’ offense happy with the opener.

All the extra time in practices, plus the days in July of Wilson and Metcalf working together starting at 5:30 a.m. on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, paid off in their first real game together.

Metcalf had a simple explanation for why he did what he did.

“Knowing Russ is a scramble quarterback and reacting off of that,” he said.

Metcalf said Shea Patterson, now the starting quarterback at Michigan who began his college career at Mississippi, is one of the few quarterbacks he’s played with who is like Wilson in seeking to extend pass plays so long by scrambling.

“But his scrambling ability,” Metcalf said of Wilson, “is way different.”

Asked if Patterson ever had a play with him similar to what Wilson did with Metcalf in the opener, Metcalf shook his head convincingly.

“No,” the rookie said, flatly.

Still, it was just one game. He’s got 15 more in first regular season, in a league notorious for chewing up and spitting out rookie wide receivers, even top-of-the-draft ones. The next one is Sunday at Pittsburgh.

There are so many intricacies to being an NFL wide receiver. Footwork. Handwork. Getting off the line of scrimmage in various ways to disguise routes from defenders. Getting in and out of patterns efficiently. Using his body to shield defenders. Using the sidelines to his advantage. Timing with the quarterback. Reading blitzes and coverages and adjusting accordingly. Picking up audibles. And, especially in Seattle’s offense, blocking for running plays outside.

All that doesn’t even include the most important skill: actually catching the football.

That—and the rookie’s understated persona with the media so far this season—are why Metcalf said he was less than overwhelmed with his first game. He says he must improve Sunday when the Seahawks play the Steelers Sunday.

“I could have done a lot of stuff better,” he said of week one. “But overall, it was fun. It was a great experience to be out there for the first time.”

What does Metcalf believe Metcalf could have done better?

“A lot of stuff,” he said. “Ran routes better. Blocked better. Caught the ball better. ...a whole lot of things.”

He is learning other nuances, such as officials and how they view offensive pass interference in the NFL. He got called for that penalty last weekend for grabbing a Bengals cornerback by the shoulders and throwing him down to gain inside position before Wilson’s pass sailed by incomplete.

The NFL’s officiating crews visited each team’s training camp this summer to advise them of a crackdown on offensive pass interference.

“I’m starting to know that they are calling OPI a lot more. So I’ve just got to change my game to the rules,” he said.

“I’ve just got to adapt.”

Metcalf realizes that because he is 6 feet 4 and 229 pounds, he already stands out against shorter, lighter defensive backs. He knows he may quickly become a target of increased scrutiny from officials for contract, because defenders tend to fall off him like leaves off trees each autumn.

“Yes, sir. I know I’ve got a lot of strength that most receivers don’t have,” he said.

If the Steelers do what the Bengals did last weekend while throttling Seattle’s offense, they will layer their safeties behind cornerbacks covering Lockett. That should leave Metcalf in single coverage against another defensive back that definitely will not be 6-4, 229 with 4.32-second speed in the 40-yard dash.

Metcalf appreciates Wilson trusting him on the big third down last weekend while the Seahawks trailed. He appreciates the work he and his quarterback have already been doing.

But...

“It means a lot. But I’ve still got a lot of work to put in,” he said. “The next game could be different ...

“Whenever your number’s called you’ve just got to be ready.”

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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