ST. LOUIS Hello from the sunny Heartland -- not that it matters for the Seahawks, who open the season Sunday inside the dark, cave-like Edward Jones Dome.
With all the focus this week on how Rams trick plays on special teams doomed the Seahawks the last time they played in St. Louis last October and how Seattle has spent the summer preparing to avoid a repeat of that, it’s almost been forgotten how much better the Seahawks’ own return games are now compared to any time last season.
The only time the Seahawks began further up field than their own 26-yard line in nine drives last October 19 during their 28-26 loss to the Rams was after St. Louis missed a 52-yard field goal and Seattle took over at the spot of that kick, its own 42.
Seattle’s punt returns in 2014 mostly weren’t returns at all. After aborting his experiment of Earl Thomas returning punts after one game because he couldn’t trust the intense All-Pro safety to put on governor on himself to avoid risking injury, coach Pete Carroll essentially ordered returner Bryan Walters to simply not fumble with an endless stream of fair catches. Seattle’s 28 fair catches were tied for second-most in the league and its meager average of 7 yards per punt return was second-lowest in the NFC.
The kickoff returns weren’t any better. Seattle was 30th in the NFL with an average of 21 yards per return. With most if not all kickoffs reaching the goal line or into the end zone, that meant the Seahawks began drives after kickoffs around their own 20-yard line.
Those long fields that day and all season made the offense need four or five first downs to get into scoring range instead of two or three. Add those up over a year and that’s a lot of lost chances to score.
Hello, Tyler Lockett!
Brian Schneider has been coaching special teams since 1994 when he as an assistant at Colorado State. The Seahawks’ special-teams coach says Lockett, his new punt and kickoff returner playing in his first regular-season game Sunday at St. Louis, is the most professional rookie he’s seen.
He debuts Sunday in St. Louis. And he doesn’t have to be all that good to be better than what the Seahawks had returning kicks last season.
"He’s like a 10-year pro in his rookie year, the way he prepares," Schneider said. "You just trust him as you are making decisions that good things are going to happen with him.
"I think that’s the most complete (rookie) I’ve ever seen."
As Schneider was talking to me 10 minutes after practice Thursday in Renton, Lockett was still on the field catching balls. He was the last Seahawk out there.
“I mean, look at him!” Schneider marveled. “At the beginning of practice, he’s out here five or 10 minutes before anyone else. He just puts in the work. ... He does everything he can to maximize himself.”
Lockett took the second ball he ever touched in a game for the Seahawks back 46 yards on a kickoff in the preseason opener last month. His fourth touch was a wowing, 103-yard kickoff return score that would have been a team record had it been a real game. In the third exhibition game he zigzagged across some of San Diego County to score on a 67-yard punt return.
Now that’s improved field position. It’s why general manager John Schneider traded three picks to Washington to move from the bottom of the third round to its top in May to draft Lockett.
“Everyone has the utmost confidence in him,” Brian Schneider said. “The sky’s the limit for him. If he is just himself, that’s really, really good. You just trust him that he’ll make good positions -- and good things are going to happen.”
Sunday in St. Louis, the Rams have a factor they didn’t have to contend with the last time they played the Seahawks. Let’s see how long the fields are for Seattle’s offense this time.
EX-49ERS LB NICK MOODY ONTO PRACTICE SQUAD
The league’s official transactions for Saturday showed the Seahawks have added to their practice squad former San Francisco linebacker Nick Moody.
Moody, 25, played inside linebacker in the 49ers’ 3-4 defense after they drafted him in the sixth round out of Florida State in 2012. More than that, he played on multiple special-teams units for San Francisco.
That’s eight former 49ers to join the Seahawks in the last three seasons, including current members of the active roster Ricardo Lockette, B.J. Daniels, Will Tukuafu and Demarcus Dobbs.