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Seahawks with the most to gain: Jermaine Kearse

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Jermaine Kearse (center) scored memorable touchdowns in both the NFC Championship game and Super Bowl. (AP)

By Danny O'Neil

Our countdown of the players on the Seahawks roster with the most to gain this season continues with a look at Seattle's group of receivers and there's one who has more room to grow than any other, and no, we're not talking about the return of Sidney Rice.

WR Jermaine Kearse

Age: 24

Experience: Entering third season

Pedigree: An undrafted rookie out of Washington, Kearse first made the Seahawks roster because of his play on special teams. Last season, he had an early opportunity at wide receiver and he grabbed onto it. With both hands.

A player knocked for the passes he dropped during his four years in college became known for the balls he caught with the Seahawks. Whether it was the 43-yard touchdown in the season-opening victory at Carolina – Seattle's only touchdown that game – or the play in which he spun away from four different Broncos en route to the end zone in the Super Bowl.

Kearse averaged 15.7 yards per catch in 2013, most of any Seahawk who caught more than five passes during the regular season. He caught four touchdowns in the regular season, each spanning more than 25 yards.

Predicament: There's plenty of competition at wide receiver even with Golden Tate's free-agent departure to Detroit. Seattle hopes to have Percy Harvin for a full 16-game schedule, Doug Baldwin is a factor not just for opportunities in the slot, but on the outside and Seattle brought back Sidney Rice. Kearse will have a chance to get more opportunities this season, but no guarantees.

Danny O'Neil's look at the other Seahawks with the most to gain:
LB Bruce Irvin
CB Byron Maxwell
RB Christine Michael
DE Greg Scruggs
The possibilities: Rice's return is a nice story, the Seahawks bringing back their leading receiver from 2012. Whether it's a significant story, though, depends in part on Kearse and whether he builds on what was a promising second season.

Kearse's rapport with quarterback Russell Wilson was evident as far back as the 2012 training camp when both are rookies. In the second season, that trust translated into two routes in which Kearse excelled, beginning with the go route that resulted in that touchdown in Carolina back in Week 1.

His success on those patterns set up opponents for the back-shoulder fade, which also became part of the arsenal. By the playoffs, Kearse had evolved from a promising youngster to a trusted target, as evidenced by the fact he was the one Wilson threw to on that fourth-down freebie against the 49ers, turning into the 35-yard touchdown.

Kearse isn't the fastest receiver on the team nor is he the biggest, but his combination of size and speed and that ability to make plays in traffic makes him the player who is best positioned to see his production skyrocket with Tate gone.

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