SEATTLE — Since the middle of last season, Seattle Seahawks players and staff raved about Jermaine Kearse.
Back then, the talk was mostly about potential and personality. Hard worker, and great guy in the locker room, his teammates said.
He made for a feel-good story, too, being a University of Washington and Lakes High in Tacoma product who landed with the team as an undrafted free agent.
Forget all that now; Kearse is proving himself a big-play-making, legitimate NFL receiver and special-teams player in this preseason, scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter Saturday night in a win over the Denver Broncos.
Those scores were in addition to his touchdown catch in the preseason-opening win over San Diego last week.
Kearse scored on a 12-yard pass from quarterback Russell Wilson on the first drive, and then returned a kickoff 107 yards for another score.
That Kearse would consider bringing the kickoff out from seven yards deep, and then zoom so confidently through the coursing Broncos, was but one of the examples of outrageous competitive audacity that make the Seahawks so entertaining — even in August.
The memo that preseason games are meaningless apparently has never arrived in the Seahawks locker room.
And so we see cornerback Brandon Browner pick up a Denver fumble in his own end zone and, at a time when just staying down for a touchback is the prudent move, he rolls, rises, and sprints 106 yards the other way for another first-half touchdown.
Kearse left UW as second all-time in receiving yards and touchdowns. He sprinkled in the occasional drop among the notable big plays, and although he had the size (6-1, 209) and speed (4.43 40), he went undrafted.
Recently, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll cited Kearse for his versatility and quickness. “He can play all three (receiving) spots, which is great,” Carroll said. “So, he’s a vital part of what we’re doing right now. He’s busted his tail and really come through. And he’s been tough as heck, too.”
The competition at receiver has been heated, with free agent Stephen Williams and rookie Chris Harper among those vying with Kearse for roster spots after Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and the recuperating Percy Harvin.
Harvin’s hip surgery has opened the way for Kearse not only in the receiving corps, but on kickoff returns as well. On his scoring return, he had no apparent thought of taking a knee and angled off to the right side. After the game Kearse said the return was designed to go left, and he cut toward that sideline, shrugged off kicker Matt Prater, and outran everybody else to the end zone.
Kearse never returned a kick in his four years at UW. But he steps up and stings the Denver Broncos for a score in his first try.
Coming into this game, Carroll stressed the desire to see his first-team offense come out against Denver and play a “clean” game with no mistakes or penalties. Well, he’s going to have to wait another week.
But it didn’t seem to matter as they scored anyway and moved the ball, forced turnovers and scored on those two stunning returns in the first half.
Once again, the Hawks played without a number of key players, including tight end Zach Miller, defensive end Cliff Avril and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel.
But tight ends Luke Willson and Sean McGrath showed continued improvement. Special teams were exceptional. And in a game that was surprisingly intense and hard-hitting for a second preseason game, the Seahawks dominated physically even when the Broncos starters were on the field.
It was the Seahawks seventh straight preseason win, dating back to the final tune-up of the 2011 preseason. And if nothing else, these guys seem out to prove that the full price that fans have to pay for preseason tickets is actually worth the outlay.