Seahawks need Will Dissly, new targets to pick up Doug Baldwin's torch

Rookie tight end Will Dissly has six catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns through two weeks. Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports

RENTON, Wash. -- As rookie tight end Will Dissly was breaking tackles and rumbling his way toward a 66-yard reception that highlighted his unexpectedly productive NFL debut, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was reminded of an all-time great.

"In the middle of the run I was hollering, 'It's Mike Ditka! It's Ditka!'" Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle last week. "He looked like Ditka running down the field."

Will Dissly is not Mike Ditka. But he has led Seattle with 147 receiving yards to go along with a pair of touchdowns through his first two games. Not bad for a guy whom the Seahawks considered the best blocking tight end in this year's draft and a must-have specifically because of that skill.

Dissly's production as a pass-catcher has been a revelation for the Seahawks. It has been a needed one, with top receiver Doug Baldwin sidelined for the past six quarters and possibly longer.

While the Seahawks (0-2) haven't publicly ruled Baldwin out for Sunday's home opener against the Dallas Cowboys, it doesn't sound like they're counting on having him back quite yet. That was the impression Carroll gave Wednesday when asked about Baldwin's status as he recovers from his MCL injury. He didn't practice later that afternoon.

"Doug had a good weekend," Carroll said. "He's real positive about it, but there's nothing to say about when he's returning at this point."

And so it could be another week, at least, of Russell Wilson needing his mostly new group of pass-catchers to pick up the slack in Baldwin's absence. Of the Seahawks' top six players in terms of receiving yards last season, Tyler Lockett is the only one who is still here and currently healthy.

Lockett has moved into Baldwin's role as the No. 1 receiver and has a pair of touchdowns, including a 19-yard score in the corner of the end zone on a picturesque throw and catch from Wilson in the fourth quarter Monday night at the Chicago Bears. His 51-yard TD catch in the opener at the Denver Broncos was the latest reminder that he has regained the speed he didn't have last year coming off his broken leg from Christmas Eve 2016. It's one reason the Seahawks felt comfortable giving him a three-year extension in August.

Brandon Marshall, signed in May after his release from the New York Giants, caught a touchdown pass in Week 1 and was second to Lockett Monday night with 53 offensive snaps. Marshall was anything but a lock to make the team initially, given his age (34) and recent injury history (coming off ankle and toe surgeries after playing only five games last season). But he built a strong connection with Wilson and, perhaps equally as important, showed he can stay healthy.

In what seems like a sign of how much Wilson trusts him, Marshall leads Seattle with 12 targets.

Jaron Brown, whom the Seahawks signed in free agency after letting Paul Richardson leave for the Washington Redskins, has been right behind Marshall in playing time. David Moore and Keenan Reynolds, who was promoted from the practice squad after Baldwin went down, round out Seattle's receiving corps.

And then there's Dissly, a fourth-round pick who has overtaken Nick Vannett as Seattle's No. 1 tight end while Ed Dickson remains on the non-football injury list. A defensive lineman at the start of his career at the University of Washington, Dissly converted to tight end and caught a modest 25 passes over his two seasons at the position.

That's why some in the UW program were surprised that the Seahawks had as much pre-draft interest in Dissly as they did. But it's easy to see why now.

Dissly's 105 yards in the opener were tops among rookies, and according to the Seahawks, he's the first rookie tight end in NFL history to start his career with a touchdown and more than 40 yards receiving in consecutive games. His two scores already match Jimmy Graham's total from his first season in Seattle. It has been more receiving production than the Seahawks initially expected to get from Dissly when they drafted him.

"He's a real natural athlete," Carroll said. "We’d see him through the workouts and he looked really good and all that, but I think not until we really got around him and got to know him a little more and understand that he is such a good all-around athlete and he’s got a good feel and sense and stuff. He’s got good spatial awareness and all those good things, and he’s going to get better too because he has such little background. He has very limited background catching the football, but it’s not because he doesn’t have good hands and he didn’t see the ball well and all that.”

The Seahawks have missed Baldwin, to be sure -- maybe on third down, most of all, as their 28 percent conversion rate (7-for-25) ranks 29th in the NFL. Since Baldwin entered the league in 2011, he ranks fifth with 114 receptions that converted on third down, according to ESPN charting.

Carroll was asked Wednesday if the Seahawks had given any thought to free agent Dez Bryant in light of Baldwin's absence.

"We like the guys that we have," he said. "We feel comfortable about them. We've kind of anticipated that Keenan would step up for us if we needed him -- and as he gets going here, depending on how long [Baldwin remains out], he's going to fit in for us. So the answer to that is, we're looking at everything always, but we like where we're at now."