Seattle Seahawks

Speed grows up: Ricardo Lockette is leading the Seahawks in TDs

The Seahawks’ sudden, unlikely leader in touchdown catches celebrated his latest one by brushing off his arms.

Right there in the end zone, while CenturyLink Field was going bonkers over his score Sunday against the Denver Broncos, Ricardo Lockette also pantomimed smoothing out an imaginary necktie. Then he stooped as if to pick up a bag and strolled off the field as if nothing much had just happened.

Never mind that the former undrafted free agent had just toasted Denver’s top free-agent acquisition in its secondary, Aqib Talib, to give the Seahawks the lead late in the first half. Never mind the gut punch he had just given the Broncos in the Super Bowl rematch.

Lockette was just punching the clock.

“I treat this like a day in the office; it’s a glorified practice,” Lockett said of his unusual celebration, after his 39-yard touchdown catch helped Seattle win Sunday’s overtime thriller. “So I wipe my sleeves off, fix my tie and leave the field with my briefcase — just like you leave the office.

“So, just another day in the office.”

And business for him is booming right now.

Lockette has been the primary beneficiary of Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell going to the pass more in the first three games of this season than over the same span to begin the 2013 and 2012 seasons. Seattle (2-1) has thrown it 94 times and run it 81 this season. Last season, when they began 3-0, the Seahawks had 109 rushes and 89 passes at this point. (That, though, was skewed by the 47 runs and 23 throws they had while leading early and blowing out San Francisco in the second game of 2013).

In 2012, when Seattle also began 2-1, Bevell had called up 103 runs and 81 passes by this point.

Lockette — not Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin or Jermaine Kearse — leads the Super Bowl champions with two touchdown catches through three games. This raw, overlooked rookie three years ago from tiny Fort Valley State in Georgia is the leading TD target for Russell Wilson.

Bevell is not only featuring Lockette in an expanding array of deep patterns to maximize his supersonic speed and shorter, specialty routes off Wilson’s read-option plays, the play caller has even sent his No. 4 wide receiver, better known as a special-teams ace, around end on Harvin-like fly sweeps.

All that from a coach who recently recalled Lockette not even being able to get lined up correctly when he first got to the Seahawks.

“He’s not even the same guy,” Bevell said. “He’s a completely different player.”

So he’s getting different — meaning more — chances. Entering Seattle’s next game following this week’s bye, Oct. 6 at Washington, Lockette has been targeted five times for three catches. Including February’s Super Bowl, in which Lockette caught a 19-yard pass from Wilson, he has six targets and four catches in his last four games.

Lockette’s first touchdown this season came 17 minutes into the opener. He and Wilson simultaneously read Packers cornerback Sam Shields biting inside on the quarterback’s read-option fake to running back Marshawn Lynch. That left Lockette alone at the Green Bay 20 to catch Wilson’s flip throw. He then juked a flailing safety inside the 15 for the touchdown.

Asked about getting the increased opportunities, Lockette corrected that.

“It’s about earning the opportunities,” he said.

“I wouldn’t say it’s about being more or less involved in the offense. It’s about taking more advantage of the opportunity that’s being presented.”

All the while, he’s continued to blow up punt and kickoff returners. Against Denver he unleashed a leaping, WWE-off-the-top-rope-style hit on Broncos’ return man Isaiah Burse, dropping him for no gain immediately after Burse caught a punt from Jon Ryan.

It’s indicative of Lockette’s speed and determination as an outside gunner on punt coverage that he arrived as the ball did at the end of a booming, 58-yard punt by Ryan. With Lockette there’s no such thing as out-kicking the coverage.

And one of his most valuable plays this month wasn’t even a catch or a tackle.

In the second quarter against the Broncos, Lockette appeared to run the wrong route farther outside to the boundary. Wilson threw inside more toward the seam, leaving Lockette’s back to the ball in flight. The player with the best chance to catch the pass was Denver’s Talib. He was around the Seahawks 35-yard line with no Seattle man between him and Pioneer Square past the north end zone.

Lockette turned his head, saw the pass was going to Talib, stopped and sprinted in the opposite direction. Before the Broncos cornerback could grab the interception and return it for a touchdown that would have given Denver a 10-3 lead, Lockette grabbed Talib by both arms. Perhaps the best offensive pass-interference penalty in Seahawks’ history allowed Seattle to retain possession.

Lockette caught his touchdown pass four plays later, and the Seahawks had that 10-3 lead instead.

“It was worth it,” coach Pete Carroll said of the flag.

“He’s made so much improvement. He’s gone so far,” Carroll said of the former track star who says his offensive calls at Fort Valley State were simply plays named for the 1-9 tree of passing routes common to wide receivers beginning in junior high.

“The amazing thing about Ricardo is that he showed in the combine workout (in 2011) — phenomenal workout, we thought. I thought he had as good a workout as anybody there,” Carroll said. “Nobody knew who he was or where he came from or anything.”

Carroll said once the Seahawks signed him as a rookie free agent that spring, they discovered Lockette had tons to learn about being a wide receiver.

“He was kind of a ‘workout guy’ at the time and didn’t have a lot of experience behind him. It’s just been a long, long road to get to here,” Carroll said. “He’s matured so much in terms of how he applies himself. He’s an incredible athlete and he’s showing it, on special teams most pointedly. He’s one of the biggest factors that you can find. He’s just so extraordinarily fast and he would tell you that he ran 10 flat (in the 100 meters) — which I verified that he didn’t.”

Carroll laughed at that — and at what the Seahawks have as the fourth in a deep corps of wide receivers

“He’s got great football speed. And he’s real tough. Really tough,” Carroll said. “He’s a marvelous competitor. And we’re really excited about him.”

Related stories from Tacoma News Tribune