By John Boyle Herald Writer
RENTON — Jermaine Kearse was one of the Seattle Seahawks’ breakout players in 2013. He not only established himself as one of Russell Wilson’s top targets, he also helped put the exclamation mark on Seattle’s blowout Super Bowl victory by pin-balling off of four Denver defenders on his way into the end zone for a spectacular second-half touchdown.
But Kearse’s eyes don’t light up when he’s describing a play that would be a career highlight for just about anyone. And he doesn’t get a big smile when discussing his emergence as a regular in the receiver rotation.
No, what really gets Kearse talking is the mention of another fellow University of Washington receiver, Kevin Smith.
“Kevin Smith, that’s my guy,” Kearse says of Smith, an undrafted rookie who signed with Seattle last month. “He’s been doing extremely well, making some nice catches.”
Indeed, Smith has had some good moments in his first NFL training camp, including a very impressive touchdown catch in traffic on the opening day of camp, and Kearse gets excited for Smith because he sees a lot of himself in the rookie, who by all accounts is a long shot, at best, to end up on the Seattle Seahawks’ roster this season. Smith went undrafted in May, was signed by Arizona after the draft, later released, then was signed and released by Jacksonville before landing in Seattle.
Then again, long shots seem to fit right in when it comes to Seahawks wide receivers. Kearse, undrafted out of Washington in 2012, signed with Seattle, spent the first half of his rookie season on the practice squad before joining the active roster for the final seven games of the season.
Doug Baldwin went undrafted in 2011, then went on to lead the team in catches and receiving yards as a rookie. He was also Seattle’s most consistent receiver in 2013, and will almost certainly be a starter this season. Ricardo Lockette, also undrafted, bounced around between Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago, also spending a lot of time on practice squads before contributing to Seattle’s Super Bowl run as a receiver and special teams player.
So yeah, Smith seems to be up against a numbers crunch at a position that includes the aforementioned receivers, not to mention Percy Harvin and the two receivers Seattle drafted this spring, Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood. However, the Seahawks’ history under Pete Carroll should serve as a reminder that you can never count out a long shot this time of year, especially not a long shot receiver.
“Whether you’re drafted in the first round or not drafted, it does not matter here,” Seahwks receivers coach Kippy Brown said. “It really does not. If you’re willing to do the things we ask you to do, and you have enough ability to help us win, then we’ll play you. We don’t care. That’s what’s happened with Doug and Jermaine and Lockette, and Phillip Bates is coming on and doing the same thing. It’s a good thing.”
With examples like Baldwin and Kearse to look up to, Smith spends every day around living and breathing proof that he will get a real chance to show what he can do, regardless of his draft status.
“Those kind of guys got an opportunity and they took full advantage of it, so I’m trying to follow right behind them and take advantage of every opportunity I get here,” Smith said. “Every rep I get, and when I’m not out there, the mental reps so I can be on top of my game. Coming in late I’m a couple of months behind, but I’ve got to be on top of it. I’m just trying to take full advantage of it.”
Like Kearse before him, Smith knows his best shot at making the team, or ever the practice squad, is to show he can contribute on special teams. If you’re fighting to be a team’s fifth or sixth receiver — the realistic best-case scenario for a player like Smith — making a big impact on special teams is the best way to stand out. That’s why Smith is getting work in as a gunner on punt coverage and on both kickoff coverage and as a blocker on the kick return team.
“(Kearse) told me the little things you’ve got to do to try to make your way up there,” Smith said. “He’s given me some tips.”
For Kearse, helping and undrafted rookie like Smith is just the next step in the journey from being roster hopeful himself to now being a near lock to not just make the team, but be one of the team’s top pass catchers.
“I talk to him all the time, I’m on him all the time,” Kearse said. “I’m trying to do everything I can to help him out. If a younger guy — it’s funny I say ‘younger guy’ — if a younger guy asks me a question, I’m going to try to help him out the best I can. With Kevin, that’s my guy, so I’m trying to help him.”
As for Kearse, he’s looking forward to building off of a 2013 season in which he caught 22 passes for 346 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winning 43-yard score in Seattle’s season opener at Carolina. Kearse also had a 35-yard touchdown catch in the NFC Championship game to put Seattle ahead in the fourth quarter, then had that now famous 23-yard score against the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
“It was huge,” Kearse said of his breakout season. “It just gives me a sense of what I can do. I don’t ever want to stay complacent. I’m always trying to get better, I’m always trying to perfect my craft. It just gave me a sense of the type of things I can do and made me want to do more.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.