McGrath making most of opportunity with Seahawks

RENTON — So, Sean McGrath, just how long are you going to let that beard go?

“I don’t know, man,” the Seahawks tight end said through his considerable facial hair. “I’m letting it ride right now. If it ain’t broken, I’m not trying to fix it.”

And hey, it’s hard to argue with that logic. If anyone on the Seahawks roster should try to keep on his current track, it’s McGrath, a second-year tight end out Division-II Henderson State in Arkansas who now looks like a pretty good bet to make the Week 1 roster.

With starting tight end Zach Miller currently sidelined by a foot injury, and with Anthony McCoy suffering a season-ending Achilles injury, the Seahawks are currently lacking experience at the position. And for players like McGrath and rookie Luke Willson, that means a real opportunity to make an impression early in training camp.

“It’s a great opportunity,” McGrath said. “Any time you’re out there getting reps with the ones, it’s a great opportunity.”

And McGrath certainly isn’t planning on wasting that opportunity. He ended the first day of training camp cramping up in his hamstrings, then battled through more cramping on Day 2 that led to him being carted off from the table where he was signing autographs after making it through the entire practice. As one person put it on Twitter (@DavisHsuSeattle) [“]He[‘]s as tough as the nails he hides in his beard.” And, by the way, McGrath approves of this description with a boisterous laugh. He also wasn’t about to let hamstring cramps get in the way of this chance.

“I was just cramping man,” he said. “Just cramps. I was here getting it in.”

With Miller missing the first four days of training camp, McGrath and Willson both are getting significant playing time with the first-team offense. And while Willson, a fifth-round pick, has elite speed for his position, McGrath isn’t so much a player with one standout attribute, but rather an all-around tight end who spent the offseason polishing his game and also adding bulk to help his chances of sticking on an NFL roster.

“Sean McGrath has made a really obvious elevation,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said during a June minicamp. “He’s doing a fine job and his offseason work has really shown up. He’s really stronger and quicker, he’s done a fine job out here.”

And as tight end coach Pat McPhereson notes, there is nothing better than being a tight end who’s just a solid all-around player.

“Don’t say he’s just,” McPherson said. “That’s a good thing at this position. He’s a guy you can count on. He’s going to maybe struggle a little stretching the field because he’s just not as fast as some other guys, but he’s definitely doing everything else in the passing game and the running game.”

McGrath signed with Seattle last year as an undrafted rookie free agent and spent most of the season toiling away in practice squad anonymity, quietly putting in work while hoping his chance might come. When other practice squad players like wide receiver Jermaine Kearse earned promotions from the practice squad to the active roster, that gave McGrath hope, then heading into Seattle’s Week 16 game against San Francisco, he got the call he’d been dreaming of since he was a kid growing up in Chicago.

“It was exhilarating,” said McGrath, who appeared in Seattle’s final two games. “It was the highest of highs. You wait your whole life for this opportunity, you’re sticking around, you’re bouncing around, and you’ve just got to keep a positive outlook through the whole thing knowing this organization is willing to go in-house a lot and bring people up instead of bringing people over you. It was great, it was the best Christmas present I could have got.

“It just speaks volumes about the organization. If you keep plugging away and working hard, they’ll put you out there and expect that you can do the right thing.”

McGrath knows he’s no lock to make the team. The Seahawks did add former Falcons tight end Michael Palmer last week, and they could always make a trade or find someone on the waiver wire when teams start making cuts. But for now he’s just focused on making the most of this chance and continuing a career that has seen him go from Eastern Illinois, where he was dismissed from the team — “I had a little bit too much fun at Eastern Illinois,” he explained — to Henderson State — “A coach (at EIU) knew a coach at Henderson State), and bam, I’m in the Bible Belt” — to a player who is now in position to be an important part of a team expected to be a Super Bowl contender.

“We have some young guys that are stepping up,” said quarterback Russell Wilson. “You have Sean McGrath, who’s doing a great job. He’s so into it, he makes all of the catches, and he does everything you need to.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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