During a team drill at minicamp earlier this month, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett lined up on the right side of the field, opposite cornerback Richard Sherman. When the ball was snapped, Lockett raced down the right sideline, got on top of the coverage and looked up just as Russell Wilson's pass was about to hit him in stride for a touchdown.
"We’ve been trying to work on go balls ever since last year," Lockett said afterward. "We’re going to get it down. Today, we finally got it down."
There's no shortage of storylines with the Seahawks' offense going into 2016. The team is trying to negotiate an extension with Doug Baldwin. Thomas Rawls and Jimmy Graham are working to get back on the field after season-ending injuries. The offensive line has three new projected starters. Marshawn Lynch is no longer on the roster. And Wilson is looking to build on the best season of his career.
Then there's Lockett.
By just about any statistical measure, his rookie season was a success. Lockett caught 51 balls for 664 yards and six touchdowns. He found the end zone two more times as a returner and earned a Pro Bowl berth.
But the truth is, Lockett's film was even more impressive than his numbers. He got open consistently, and there were several occasions where Lockett and Wilson just barely missed on explosive plays. Matt Harmon put together a terrific breakdown of Lockett's rookie season, and in the eight games he studied, go routes made up 22.9 percent of Lockett's route tree. He was getting behind the defense, and Wilson was looking his way. The timing was just a little bit off.
The pair has been working together for much of the offseason to make sure those near-misses turn into conversions in 2016, and the result could be a big bump in Lockett's 13.02 yards-per-reception average.
Pete Carroll almost always speaks positively about his players, but it's clear that Lockett has become one of his favorites.
"He’s a legit player for us, and he’s right in the middle of all our planning and all of our preparation," Carroll said. "You have to deal with him in our offense. He’s going to be moved around to a lot. He'll be in a lot of different spots. He can do everything. We’re really pumped about him coming back. He looks so confident, which he always has. We had to make him prove it a little bit. But once we got a hold of the kind of dynamic player that he is, we used the heck out of him, and he’s going to get a lot of play time, a lot of stuff happening his way. Really helps Doug [Baldwin], really helps [Jermaine] Kearse. Those guys are great complements."
One of the things Lockett has focused on this offseason is beating press coverage. Some pegged Lockett, at 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, exclusively as a slot receiver coming out of college. But according to ESPN Stats & Information, he lined up outside on 65.6 percent of his routes last season. And 63 percent of Lockett's receiving yards came when he set up out wide.
Baldwin has proven he's a technician in the slot, and while Lockett is versatile enough to play in different spots, he'll see plenty of opportunities outside against bigger cornerbacks.
"The biggest thing is I’ve been going against Richard about 95 percent of the camp, and he’s just made me a better player," Lockett said. "Going against Richard, I’ve got to be able to move him and get him off at the line, and I can’t use the same stuff every time because he’s a smart defender, so I’ve got to switch some things up.
"And if things don’t work, at least it doesn’t work in practice against him. If it does work, he’ll let me know and be like, ‘Hey, that was a good release. That really does work.’ And it just makes it easier for me to go against anybody else, especially on other teams, after I go up against the best DB in the league."
In his first season, Lockett played 61.5 percent of the Seahawks' offensive snaps. That number figures to increase in 2016, as will Lockett's targets (69).
The Seahawks also re-signed Kearse this offseason, and all three wide receivers will be on the field together plenty. In the second half of last season, when the offense took off, the Seahawks played with three or more receivers on 80 percent of Wilson's dropbacks.
"We do everything we can think of with him," Carroll said. "There's nothing we hold back. He's smart enough, sharp enough, works hard at it. He is one of the hardest working guys we've ever had in the program, most consistent guy we've ever had. Comes in early, staying late and pushing to work on the things that he wants to improve at. He's been awesome."