RENTON — It is an anniversary that still grabs every Seattle Seahawks player who was there.
The last time Seattle visited Dallas was early November of 2015. In the first half of the Seahawks’ 13-12 win, wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, who also served as the team’s gunner on the punt coverage team, raced down the field at full speed to make a tackle.
As he ran, he was leveled on a blind-side block by Cowboys safety Jeff Heath, and laid motionless on the turf for several minutes before being taken away on a stretcher. He has suffered a neck injury that not only ended his career, but threatened his life.
Lockette might no longer be on the roster, but his courageous spirit is still with the team — and in particular, Seattle’s new standout gunner, Neiko Thorpe.
“Neiko Thorpe is Neiko Thorpe, and Lockette is Lockette, but they both have that dominant mentality,” said Seahawks cornerback Deshawn Shead, a former special-teams captain. “They want to get down there and win, or get that tackle, or get that ball out.”
Thorpe said being a gunner — the player who sprints down the sideline to try and tackle the returner first — isn’t for everybody. Many say they want that job, but don’t play like it.
“It takes a real man,” Thorpe said. “It takes grit. You’ve got to want to. You can tell if you’ve got a gunner who doesn’t want to be one.”
It is a role Thorpe said he embraced while in college at Auburn University.
“I was real good friends with my punter (Steven Clark), and I used to always tell him, no matter where you put (the punt), boot it — I am going to get it,” Thorpe said. “From there, I guess the headhunter mentality was born.”
When the Seahawks released Tharold Simon after the first game last season, and signed Thorpe as a free agent, coach Pete Carroll openly talked about how good he was in special teams with Oakland.
“He is a unique player. He’s got a combination of good strength … and he is really fast,” Carroll said. “His motor for chasing down the field for 50 yards is so consistent.”
Last season, Thorpe led the club with 10 special-teams tackles. He has nine this year, which still does not fully detail his overall impact as a gunner.
“You might not make every play, but if you are a big enough threat, you take out two or three guys so somebody else makes the play,” Thorpe said.
Carroll lists Thorpe as one of the elite gunners in the league — one who demands a double team every time he flies down the field.
That is the treatment he received Sunday in the Seahawks’ 42-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, maybe even more. Seattle coaches constantly complained Thorpe was being blocked illegally in punt coverage.
“The referees felt it was fair,” Thorpe said. “There were a couple of dirty plays, but it is part of the game.”
With that, Thorpe offered no complaints. He knows the Seahawks value his contributions, signing him to a two-year, $3.5 million extension last offseason.
And he knows he is quickly establishing himself as one of the best special-teams players in the NFL — a heat-seeking “Thorpedo.”
“You have to be crazy, and I am a little crazy,” Thorpe said. “When you think about it, it’s kind of a brief street fight, because you can go against two guys. … But it’s everything I want. I love it. I can’t get enought of it.”
Wagner set to go
Linebacker Bobby Wagner practiced on Friday and will play when the Seahawks face the Cowboys despite a lingering hamstring problem.
Carroll said Wagner is ahead of where he was last week when he did not practice at all and was a game-time decision against the Rams.
Seattle listed just three players as questionable for the must-win game against the Cowboys: safety Bradley McDougald, defensive end Frank Clark and tight end Nick Vannett. Carroll said McDougald — who has been starting with Kam Chancellor out — would play. Clark was full participant all week until Friday when he was limited with a toe injury.
Carroll also said there is a chance Shead will be activated from the physically unable to perform list. Shead suffered a major knee injury in the playoffs last January.