A close-up look at former Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes in training
RENTON The man everyone in Texas – heck, everyone in football -- knows as a quarterback sprinted down the left side of the end zone. He dived, not like a QB seeking a first down but completely extended.
His hulking body was horizontal, parallel to the turf -- like a bona fide receiver seeking the ball and the score.
Tyrone Swoopes got all that – and more – on his wowing touchdown that ended the 10th practice of Seahawks’ training camp Thursday.
Russell Wilson was the first of Seattle’s entire offense to bolt into the end zone to congratulate the rookie. And Wilson wasn’t even in on the play. Backup Trevone Boykin threw the pass that Swoopes caught so exquisitely.
"Unbelievable," is how Wilson described the catch from the most unlikely undrafted rookie on the team that champions such long shots more than any other in the NFL.
"That’s true talent. Swoopes definitely has that."
The former University of Texas quarterback is a tight end now. As of about three months ago.
He’s opening Seahawks’ eyes while trying to become the latest in their tradition of undrafted free agents to make the regular-season roster.
During last season, 24 of Seattle’s 53 players entered the league undrafted. In 2015, that number was 26, again the most in the league.
Swoopes will play his first game at his new position on Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers in the preseason opener. Can he follow Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Michael Bennett and others from undrafted rookies to unlikely Seahawks?
"He just seems to be making the transition. We are pretty blown away that it has been this quick," coach Pete Carroll said.
"Because he is already blocking people."
Yes, a life-long, former blue-chip quarterback that is 6 feet 4, 254 pounds -- and blocks people.
"We thought that might be a challenge," Carroll said.
"He has had no problem catching the football. His route running is pretty good. What it takes to play quarterback could add to wherever you are going to go next. He has taken the awareness and the experience -- he understands routes and concepts and principles and where the ball is going.
"He is learning everything just like that."
Even though Swoopes has yet to play in even an exhibition game, Wilson marveled at what the former Longhorn is already doing.
"We were talking about that in the quarterback room," Wilson said. "To go from playing quarterback to receiver, that’s a big deal. I don’t think people understand (that) receiver – and by receiver I mean, tight end (too) – how difficult that is athletically…to block these defensive ends that we have and try to do what he is doing, and also go down the field and spin his body and make these unbelievable catches."
One might think Swoopes would be humbled – or daunted – by going from the starting quarterback at one of college football’s signature programs to an undrafted tight end trying to get one of the final roster spots on an NFL team.
One might not know Tyrone Swoopes.
"I don’t think I could have ended up in a better place, honestly," he said, standing on the edge of Seattle’s practice field about 10 yards to the right of where he made his wowing grab.
Just as the Seahawks have been blown away with him, Swoopes has been blown away by Carroll’s raucous team atmosphere. Rap and R&B blaring throughout every practice. Kendrick Lamar coming onto the field to lead the team huddle at the end of a day. Daily free-throw shooting contests before team meetings begin.
"(Talking to) some of my (Texas) teammates on other teams, this place just has a different feel, that I understand," Swoopes said.
Seattle carried four tight ends into the start of the 2016 regular season. The fourth, Brandon Williams, was a special-teams ace. Williams signed in the offseason with Indianapolis.
The Seahawks have just one tight end signed beyond 2017: Nick Vannett, a draft pick last year. Starter Jimmy Graham is entering the final year of his $40 million contract. No. 2 Luke Willson re-signed this offseason for one year.
So the Seahawks need a future at the position.
And like the "18 wheeler" he became at Texas, here comes Swoopes.
How did he become a tight end? Which coach recommended it?
"It was basically after the last game (at UT) and I got my agent and we were just sitting and talking. And we just came up with it," he said, "because I didn’t really play a lot of traditional quarterback. So I didn’t have a lot of film, other than my sophomore year. And I was young."
He threw 13 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in 2014 behind one of the nation’s youngest offensive lines as Texas finished 6-7. After that, he lost his starting job. He spent the last two Longhorns seasons as a situational, short-yardage runner out of wildcat formations with jumbo-sized guys ramming into defenders.
"So we just came up with that would be the best opportunity for me, to get into the NFL, at tight end," he said.
How much had Swoopes played tight end, at any level?
"Never," he said, laughing. "Never in my life. No."
His reaction to the idea this spring?
"I was with it," he said. "It gave me the opportunity to use my athleticism, to get out and do more. Be physical. Get on guys and block guys, and also go out and catch the ball.
"So I was totally with it, 100 percent."
But what about the ego of having been a star quarterback out of Whitewright High School in football-mad Texas, the No.-2 quarterback recruit in the nation in 2013? The guy University of Texas’ national championship-winning coach Mack Brown saw as perhaps his next Vince Young?
How did Swoopes adjust to going from starting those 12 games as a sophomore in 2014 for Texas, tying for fourth on the Longhorns’ passing list with three 300-yard games in one season, to demoted to part-timer his last two seasons? From being one of the biggest stars in the Lone Star State, the quarterback for Texas, to in 2016 as a senior watching behind true freshman and early enrollee Shane Buechele – then trying a completely raw tight end with zero team practices let alone a game at the far-from-glamorous position?
"I mean, a lot of people that know me know that I do not have an ego, at all," he said.
"I’m just down to do whatever the team wants me to do."
Such as be Texas’ featured truck in its "18-wheeler" offensive package (18, for his UT uniform number). He beat Notre Dame that way on national television Labor Day night last year, with three rushing touchdowns in that wildcat formation. His final score came by ramming across the goal line in double overtime.
He scored 19 touchdowns in two years in that rushing-cameo role.
"When they told me I wasn’t starting the Notre Dame game, I was like, ‘OK,’" he said. "And we had been working on the little running package. So just doing that. Helping people. Running the scout package. Whatever I had to do.
"I mean, I think I handled it the best I could. And I think it was a good learning experience for me."
Seems he already had selflessness. What he’s continuing to learn is his key to sticking in with the Seahawks: versatility and adaptability.
The more you can do…
Swoopes talks daily to his mother Elizabeth Swoopes, a middle-school teacher and coach in Whitewright, and his father, Tyrone Swoopes, Sr., who has a corporate job with Chase Bank working in Lewisville, Denton County, Texas.
At least he was talking to them daily -- until this training camp that has swamped Swoopes’ time with studying playbooks, practice film and intricacies of a tight end.
His mom and dad are going to be in Carson, California, on Sunday for their oldest of three children’s first NFL game, for the Seahawks’ exhibition at the Chargers.
The Seahawks came to his workout as a tight end at his Pro Day at Texas this spring. The Cowboys, Bears and Buccaneers were also interested in him, all at his brand-new position.
But Swoopes says Seattle is the only NFL that called after the draft. Like, within five minutes of it ending.
"I honestly don’t know if I had any other options," he said.
"I mean, even though I didn’t really have any other options, I’m just thankful that they gave me the opportunity and just gave me a chance to come out here and show what I’ve got."
Carroll and Seahawks tight ends coach Pat McPherson talked to Swoopes for the first time when he arrived at team headquarters in May for a rookie minicamp, days after a team scout had called Swoopes to sign him.
"They just told me that they were going to give me a chance, that they were going to coach me hard and not treat me any differently (because he was an undrafted free agent)," Swoopes said.
He didn’t hesitate to name his biggest challenge. It comes as no surprise since he has all of 2½ months of experience in the task.
"Definitely just blocking people," he said.
He paused to accept a fresh fruit smoothie a team assistant had come to the edge of the practice field to offer.
"Thank you," Swoopes told her.
"I mean, it’s easy running the ball and being physical that way. But blocking is just so much different. It’s technique, hand placement and all those kinds of things."
"I think it’s gone well. I mean, I’ve got a lot to work on. I’m not where I need to be, at all. But it’s just continuing to learn. Learning from Luke and Jimmy and Nick and all those guys in the room, I’ll get there someday."
Swoopes has thought about his football detour and the new opportunity it’s created on a team that’s reached the NFL playoffs five consecutive seasons.
"I feel like if you have a dream, you’ve just got to go do it," he said. "Any way possible that you can get in there and do what you do what you’ve always dreamed of doing, you’ve got to do it.
"I feel like that’s kind of what I am doing now."