LOS ANGELES — Kasen Williams was so spectacular, superstar Richard Sherman was reduced to an awed bodyguard.
Williams, the former undrafted free agent from the University of Washington, and Sherman, the three-time All-Pro, were the last two players off the field in Los Angeles after the Seahawks’ 48-17 rout of the Chargers on Sunday in the preseason opener. Sherman was along the railing of the tunnel to the locker room signing autographs on hats, shirts and footballs. Williams was chatting with folks and signing, too, for Chargers and Seahawks fans alike.
A few minutes later, Seattle’s star for years and its star Sunday walked down a long hallway. They were late getting into the locker room. Sherman offered a boisterous apology to staffers, and to a reporter waiting to interview Williams for the team’s radio network.
Williams had just made four, ridiculous, soaring catches for 119 yards. Sherman joked he had been providing postgame, celebrity security for the wide receiver.
“I thought he was going to get mugged!” Sherman yelled through the hall. “After what he did to 43, I thought they were going to fight him!”
Yes, Williams did dominate number 43 for the Chargers, cornerback Michael Davis. Four times. All along the same sideline, directly in front of Sherman and the Seahawks’ bench.
In doing so, Williams thrust himself back into Seattle’s crowded competition for roster spots at wide receiver.
Former second-round pick Paul Richardson started Sunday, but is out indefinitely. He sprained his right shoulder on the first drive at Los Angeles. Tyler Lockett just came off the physically-unable-to-perform list last week following two broken bones in his leg and surgery in December. Lockett didn’t play Sunday, and may not Friday when the Seahawks host the Minnesota Vikings in exhibition number two.
Sunday’s heroics put Williams ahead of rookie draft picks David Moore and also-injured Amara Darboh plus former LSU track champion and undrafted rookie Cyril Grayson for the final couple of perhaps six roster spots at wide receiver.
“Who knows?” Williams said. “I’ve got to continue just staying in my lane and making sure that I take care of myself – and the rest will take care of itself.”
Where did Sunday’s burst come from?
Williams credits a change in offseason training.
Oh, and… asparagus juice?
“I had to change how I work out. I had to change what I needed to do to make sure my body was ready,” he said of this past offseason, after two injury-filled years. “I did some prime time. And I do feel like I am in the prime of my career.
“Even though I’ve had some injuries or whatever, I feel like those are in the past. I feel like I have a great handle on what I need to do to get my body 100 percent ready. And I feel like the sky’s the limit.”
About that juicery…
“Yeah!” Williams said, with a big grin “Cold Pressed Juicery. I’m in there all the time. In Bellevue, right on Bellevue Way.
“Vegetables. Fruit. All that. Asparagus. All that.”
Williams said the juices helped him get fitter. Leaner.
Sunday that appeared to be more valuable to the Seahawks. They’re counting on him to stay healthy in 2017.
“It was just the biggest improvement that I made. I lost five, six, seven pounds just off eating right. Making sure I put the right things in my body,” Williams said.
“You hear a lot of people talk about it. And you hear a lot of people say the best ability is availability. I’ve definitely dedicated the offseason toward that.”
Sunday, backup quarterback Trevone Boykin kept chucking the ball up to let Williams use his powerful body to seize it. Williams stretched, leaped and twisted his 6-foot-1, 219-pound frame for one wowing catch after another.
It was more evidence he was the 2011 Washington high school champion in the high jump, long jump and triple jump. Oh, yeah, he was also the Parade magazine national high school football player of the year as a senior at Skyline High School.
“Just the ability to go up and get the ball,” Williams said with a shrug outside the visiting locker room Sunday night.
“I just wanted an opportunity to show that I’ve been doing it a lot in practice. The people that have been around at practice, all the guys in the locker room, they already know. But now it’s just a matter of putting it out for the world to see.
“That’s what I was waiting for.”
The best of Williams’ fantastic four in L.A. came early in the third quarter. Davis leaped and had Boykin’s slightly underthrown pass in his hands for what should have been an interception. But Williams ripped the ball from the Charger as both fell to the turf. The Seahawks gained 34 yards to move them from their own 13 to the 47.
Four plays later Williams did it again, soaring and twisting to catch Boykin’s sideline heave while deftly keeping both feet inbounds. That 29-yard gain to the 1 set up Chris Carson’s second touchdown run on the next play.
“I loved his game tonight,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He lit up our sidelines. Not because it was one or two. It’s because it was four big, substantial plays.
“The beautiful time was when he kind of bluffed the guy and then went underneath him to catch the low ball in the fade. The one he took away was probably the most spectacular. It was exciting.”
It was what Williams has always done, at every level. From Skyline in Sammamish to UW to the NFL for his hometown team, Williams has used his strength and size to wall off defenders and keep them from the ball. It’s much like a basketball player does to box out an opponent from getting a rebound.
“He does do that. We have seen him do that a lot,” Carroll said. “He’s been doing that most of his career.”
Not that it’s been an extensive one. Not in the NFL. This is the 25-year-old Williams’ third Seahawks training camp. He’s been active for only three regular-season games in his first two seasons—but, oddly, for all four playoff games Seattle’s played the last two Januarys.
When he missed a practice last week one day after a teammate stepped on his foot, it was a reminder Williams has been getting injured at inopportune times so far in his football life. That dates to his junior year at UW in 2013, when his broke the fibula in his lower leg and sustained a ligament and bone displacement in his foot. He needed surgeries to set the leg and have pins inserted into in his foot. His junior season at UW was ruined, and much of his senior year. Thus, so was his shot of an NFL team drafting him.
Turns out, that complicated injury is why Williams is a Seahawk.
Cincinnati signed him in May 2015 as an undrafted free agent, but the team’s doctors got scared off by the pins in his foot. The Bengals failed him in a physical. Williams was a free agent again, but only for a few days.
Seahawks doctors knew the surgeon who’d operated on Williams’ foot; he advised the team not to worry about the pins. Plus, Carroll had recruited Williams when the coach was at USC eight years ago. The Seahawks signed him on a no-risk, free-agent flyer in the spring of 2015 based on Williams’ undeniable physical skills and potential.
He’s still here.
“To see him have the opportunity it’s kind of what we talked about,” Carroll said Sunday. “Some guys would get the opportunity, but it’s whether they seize them or not. He certainly did that (Sunday).
“He has great timing. He has great hops and he also knows he can make those plays. He’s always been able to do that. And it’s like you’re playing in his wheelhouse when you give him those opportunities.”