Dave Boling

Dave Boling: Seahawks’ Tyler Lockett makes Pro Bowl almost worth watching

Tyler Lockett was a rookie sensation for the Seahawks, returning punts and kickoffs and catching passes — and earning a Pro Bowl invitation.
Tyler Lockett was a rookie sensation for the Seahawks, returning punts and kickoffs and catching passes — and earning a Pro Bowl invitation. The Associated Press

A remnant from the days when NFL players cared about a free trip to Hawaii and a few grand in extra cash, the archaic Pro Bowl will be ignored by most fans.

Rightly so. Dozens of players voted into it don’t want anything to do with the game, either.

But the ratings numbers in Seattle should be among the highest anywhere.

Those with nothing better to do on Sunday afternoon will be rewarded, particularly, by the play of Seahawks rookie Tyler Lockett — a player perfect for this medium.

The Hawks’ dismissal in the divisional round by Carolina means that the last chance fans have to catch some of their favorites is in the Pro Bowl from Honolulu — even though it’s only a football-like activity.

The NFL has tried to reshape, relocate and reconstitute this all-star game a number of times, but league officials can never mask the fact that football is a game of full-speed collisions and high intensity. And when players are prudently cautious about their well-being, it becomes viewing highlighted only by the pleasant Hawaiian scenes at each commercial cutaway.

If you’re craving plinking ukulele music and football coaches and commentators wearing floral garments, well, this is must-see. Otherwise, meh.

Fact is, fewer and fewer recognizable veterans seem keen on using up a week of their offseason in a glorified game of two-hand touch.

Of the 86 players who earned the Pro Bowl honor — which players take far more seriously than the actual game — 47 declined because of injury, Super Bowl obligations or disinterest.

Seahawks Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor each declined. But that still left quarterback Russell Wilson on the active roster along with Lockett and defenders Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner and Michael Bennett.

Because teams are determined by a draft of players rather than by their conference affiliation, a team with Wilson and Sherman and Bennett will play against a team with Wagner and Lockett.

It could mean intramural duels in which Wagner tackles Wilson and Lockett runs routes against Sherman.

One of only three rookies voted into the game, Lockett earned his spot as a returner.

Since the Pro Bowl doesn’t include kickoffs, Lockett will be featured on punt returns, but also is expected to get some play at receiver, a position in which he showed unexpected mastery this season (51 catches).

He could threaten to score in both capacities. Of course, anybody who touches the ball in the Pro Bowl is a threat to score. That seems especially so on returns, since defenders are not inclined to tackle with force anywhere, but surely not at anything nearing as much as a jogging pace on punt coverage.

That makes it easy to envision Lockett hauling in punts and slaloming through indifferent defenders for big gains. He’ll be a star of the game if he puts up the numbers he did in the season finale at Arizona — against a team actually focused on stopping him.

In that game, Lockett returned punts for 139 yards, more ground than the San Diego Chargers compiled returning punts all season (84 yards).

Lockett established himself immediately, scoring a touchdown on his first NFL punt return, at St. Louis in the season opener, and adding a touchdown on a kickoff return in his third game, at home against Chicago. He also scored six receiving touchdowns.

He never missed a game, survived a series of big hits, and earned teammates’ respect as a student of the game who was willing to do the dirty work of blocking despite being a slight 181 pounds.

After the loss to Carolina, Lockett showed himself to be a bit of a philosopher, too.

“Life ain’t always going to be good,” he said of the Seahawks’ 31-0 halftime deficit, which proved insurmountable. “Life’s going to hit you in some spots where it hurts. It’s all about how you respond to it.”

Lockett’s first chance to respond to that loss is in this game.

Most of the players on the field at the Pro Bowl don’t have much they really need to prove.

That’s another reason Tyler Lockett should be conspicuously excellent.

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