Preparing for life without iconic star Doug Baldwin, the Seahawks used three of their 11 draft choices in April to bolster their receiving corps.
While second-round selection DK Metcalf immediately emerged as an offseason superstar for Seattle, fourth-round pick Gary Jennings and seventh-round pick John Ursua started their NFL careers on the sidelines during rookie minicamp and have been playing catchup ever since.
As the calendar approaches September and the start of the regular season, however, both players have started to figure things out.
Jennings enjoyed his finest practice on Monday, a performance offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer coined as “borderline dominant.” He reeled in a spectacular one-handed catch working along the sideline during team drills and made several other difficult catches.
Not known for being brash, quarterback Russell Wilson actually offered a somewhat candid assessment of Jennings’s breakout practice.
“He really needed it, I think, just to be honest with you.” Wilson said. “I think just to make some plays, get the ball in his hands and one, show himself that he can be great in this league hopefully and two, I think ultimately just to the team and everything else, the ball hasn’t gone his way much for whatever reasons.”
While Jennings looks to finally be getting comfortable at the right time, Ursua has quietly put together an impressive camp and caught Schottenheimer’s attention in a crowded, competitive receiving group.
“Very natural football player. Very natural.” Schottenheimer said. “Definitely fits more of that slot role, he’s very comfortable in there, he understands how you find voids and how to get open.”
Previously starring for the Warriors, Ursua played more than 90 percent of his snaps last season out of the slot and put up video game-like numbers. In 13 games, he caught 89 passes for 1,343 receiving yards and scored 16 touchdowns, earning First-Team All-MWC honors.
Known as a savvy route runner, Ursua also showed off his overlooked athleticism in Seattle’s preseason opener against Denver last Thursday. After snagging a key 23-yard reception on third down from backup Geno Smith during the first half, he did his best Baldwin impersonation, immediately juking his way out of a tackle attempt by a linebacker to pick up an additional four yards.
Schottenheimer has seen similar plays from Ursua on the practice field and after averaging more than 15 yards per reception last year, it shouldn’t be surprising he can create yardage after the catch.
“What I love about him is he’s got great transition. So not only does he catch the ball, but he’s able to catch it and come to life and get north and south. He’s having a really good camp.”
What’s been the difference maker for Ursua? As is the case for all rookies, players entering the league must learn to tread water while taking on immense amounts of information learning a new playbook. Everything moves at light speed compared to college and it’s not unusual for first-year players to struggle adapting.
Now that the game seems to be slowing down a bit, Schottenheimer sees far more confidence from Ursua, which instantly leads to improved results.
“I mean, these vets get the benefit of last year, these young guys come in and early on their heads want to explode.” Schottenheimer said. “They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, is it ever going to stop?’ Now it’s slowed down for him and he’s another guy that you see him playing faster.”
Facing stiff competition at one of Seattle’s deepest positions, Ursua hasn’t locked up a spot on the 53-man roster just yet. But given his natural skill set working out of the slot and after-the-catch capabilities, two areas the Seahawks could certainly use help, a couple more stellar preseason performances should secure a role with the team.