Seahawks wide receiver and Albany native Ricardo Lockette holds on to a pass while being defended by cornerback Akeem Auguste during a recent practice. (Reuters)
SEATTLE — The Seahawks list Ricardo Lockette as a wide receiver. That is not why the Albany native and Monroe grad owns a Super Bowl ring.
To know Lockette’s value to the Seahawks is to know what special-teams coach Brian Schneider knows.
Schneider times the guys on Seattle’s kickoff team in their sprints over the first 40 yards of kick coverage — to the opponents’ 25-yard line — and again from the 25 to the goal line.
The coach assigns points based on who finishes those 40- and 25-yard sprints first, second, etc. That points battle is a spirited, internal derby throughout the preseason and again in the regular season. Watch closely Friday night during an exhibition game, and you will see Seahawks again looking at each other as they sprint down to cover kickoffs. They go all out, even on obvious touchbacks, to earn Schneider’s points.
Oh, yes, Lockette wants to be known as a wide receiver, one who caught a 19-yard pass in February’s Super Bowl. Last week in the exhibition opener at Denver, Lockette caught two passes for 35 yards, including one late from Terrelle Pryor that helped get Seattle inside the Broncos 5-yard line while down 21-16.
You may recall Lockette was Pryor’s target on his final pass, which got deflected for an interception at the goal line.
But what the Seahawks won’t forget about him from last week’s game exemplifies why Lockett’s got an inside track — literally — over other receivers to make the team at month’s end: He ran his first 40 yards on one kickoff in 3.93 seconds.
Yes, a 3.93 40.
“That’s the fastest I’ve ever had,” Schneider said following Wednesday’s practice at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
Sure, that’s with a moving start off a kickoff. But consider the fastest 40-yard dash ever recorded at the NFL combine is 4.24 seconds by running back Chris Johnson in 2008. Or that most see anything near 4.0 flat as an extraordinary time for a running-start 40.
“I was with the Raiders and a couple times we broke 4 seconds. But never had a 3.9,” said Schneider, a veteran of 14 seasons coaching special teams in college and the NFL. “And I don’t think we broke 4 seconds (in Seattle) last year.”
The fact Lockette went Usain Bolt-like in an exhibition game indicates why the Seahawks — who first signed him in 2011 as an undrafted free agent from Division-II Fort Valley State — signed him back off Chicago’s practice squad last October. People still talk about Lockette blowing up Justin Veltung of the Saints just as Veltung caught a punt in January’s divisional playoff game.
A week later in the NFC championship game, Lockette sped from the right flank on a diagonal across the field and into the shoulder pads of San Francisco’s LaMichael James. Lockette’s hit knocked off James’ helmet. It also knocked James woozy and out of the game.
Asked where this wide receiver’s hitting comes from, Lockette smiled at the memory of being back home in Albany.
“I played safety in high school (at Monroe),” he said. “That was pretty much all I did was run around, bang into receivers. I didn’t have that many receptions. But I had a lot of guys that I put out of the game.”
Lockette excels in one of the NFL’s more thankless jobs. He’s a “gunner” near the sideline on Seahawks punts, usually double-teamed by defenders who are trying to drive him through the nearby benches and into Gatorade buckets.
But — a-ha! — they can’t hit what they can’t catch.
“I take pride in being the first one down there,” Lockette said this week. “In my head, it’s more like a game. It’s more like tag in the backyard. You’ve got two guys on you, and I’m thinking, ‘Which way am I going to go? Am I going to pick the weaker guy or the slower guy?’
“I’m just going to pick the weaker link, and I’m just going to go at that guy and shake him and try to stop him from touching me. I run as fast as I can so they can’t hit me, then I make the tackle.”
Jon Ryan’s often soaring, booming punts and sprints like Lockette’s for immediate tackles are key to limiting returns. That is vital to coach Pete Carroll’s plan of controlling games with advantageous field position, defense and a running game.
It worked with Lockette last season — well enough for Seattle’s first NFL championship.
He spent his rookie season on the Seahawks’ practice squad for all but the final two regular season games of 2011. Seattle released him in September 2012, and he spent the rest of that year on San Francisco’s practice squad. He was in New Orleans for that season’s 49ers-Ravens Super Bowl and got interviewed by some of the worldwide media horde that really didn’t know or perhaps care that Lockette wasn’t actually playing in that Super Bowl.
But he sure played in the last one, thanks to his speed and dedication on special teams.
It’s why Albany had a “Ricardo Lockette Day” this spring.
Making an NFL team because of special-teams work is a lesson he is passing on — “every day,” he says — to rookies in this Seahawks’ camp. That includes one in whom he has a special interest, cornerback Trey Wolfe. Wolfe is, like Lockette was, undrafted out of Fort Valley State.
Lockette said “he messed up” in his approach as a rookie three years ago.
“When I first got to the NFL, I thought I was going to be the next Jerry Rice (from Mississippi Valley State), coming from a small school and just being that ‘Big Guy,’ ” he said. “It took me a minute to throw that ego in the trash and just become a really hard worker.
“Once I started to work hard, different positions started to open up for me, especially on special teams. I apply that same effort and aspiration to receiver, so hopefully both will open up for me this year.”
Oh, one other thing you may not know about this motoring masher on Seattle’s special teams: When asked what one of his talents is outside of football he replied, “Poetry.”
“I’m not as coordinated as I want to be. I can’t rap and I can’t sing,” he said. “So I just write stuff down that sounds good — without a beat.”