By now you’ve read that many Seahawks come by their mad-ons because they were overlooked, under-drafted or unappreciated. The disrespect card is thrown down by players so much that the wonder is whether other cards are in the deck. Which is why undrafted free agent Jermaine Kearse from the University of Washington is so weird.
From the smoldering sullenness of Doug Baldwin to the spittle-scattering antics of Richard Sherman, the Seahawks are out to prove the doubters wrong. You too, Jermaine?
“No,” he said, after practice Wednesday. “I don’t try to prove the doubters wrong. I try to prove the supporters right.”
That’s novel around the Seahawks: Proving a positive instead of disproving a negative.
He has a big supporter in the headmaster.
“He’s a core guy on this football team and we love what he does,” said coach Pete Carroll, who fairly radiates sunshine, lollipops and rainbows on his worst day. He likes Kearse because even though he was a blue-chip recruit out of Tacoma’s Lakes High and a starter at wide receiver for most of his four years (2008-11) at Washington — he’s No. 2 all-time at Montlake in career receptions (180), receiving yards (2,871) an receiving TDs (29) — his pro football job is dependent on making special-teams tackles, the demolition derby portion of the Sunday program.
“We’re looking for guys to make this team because they can play special teams first,” Carroll said. “They have to be unique, and have a quality that we can’t match with anybody else. We cherish those guys.”
For Kearse, it’s simple: It’s the only door open.
“I know my ability,” he said. “Everyone wants to be drafted. But it’s what (Washington coach Steve) Sarkisian always talked about: ‘It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.’ The draft/free agency thing was just a beginning. Now I’m here.”
“Here” is around fourth, fifth or sixth in the wide receiver depth chart that is led by Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Baldwin, another undrafted free agent (Stanford). Kearse’s spot would be lower but for the absence of prized acquisition Percy Harvin, who will miss at least half the season after hip surgery.
And he might not be here it at all but for an injury to WR Ben Obomanu last season that elevated Kearse from the Seahawks’ practice squad to a starter in the week 9 game at Minnesota.
“I caught my first (NFL) pass on the first play of that game,” he said, grinning. “Pretty cool.”
It wasn’t the start of a trend. He caught only two more passes the rest of the season. Despite being a collegiate co-captain and a star in Washington’s wild Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor (five catches and 198 yards that included an 80-yard TD), the guy used to a Formula One existence made his NFL bones in the demo derby.
The first half 2012, he was a scout-teamer emulating the next opponent’s top receiver, which is where he kept bumping into Sherman, the voluble cornerback en route to an All-Pro season.
“He was great in practice last year,” Sherman said. “He was making plays and that’s how he made it on the field. This year, he’s night and day. From your rookie year to your sophomore year, some people slump, some people make a vast improvement. I think he’ll make an improvement and do some great things for us.”
But to get in on the offense, he has to hold off impressive Stephen Williams, another overlooked talent, and rookie fourth-rounder Chris Harper. If Kearse ends up fifth (or sixth, should the Seahawks keep that many), his game time will be limited to punt and kickoff coverages. Which is where Carroll gets giddy.
“Last year, he just jumped up on special teams,” Carroll said, “even though we thought that that wouldn’t be something that he would specialize in. He went for it. We put as much of an emphasis on special teams as you can, because we think that it is that important.”
One change he made in the off-season appears to be paying off. He abandoned contact lenses for Lasik surgery and claims it was “the best thing I spent my money on.” It certainly didn’t hurt Wednesday, when he induced maybe the day’s biggest cheer from a sold-out berm of can’t-get-enough Seahawks fans, blowing past veteran CB Byron Maxwell to catch a long, over-the-shoulder bomb along the sideline from quarterback Russell Wilson.
He also fluffed a catchable ball, evoking some dubious memories from those who witnessed his Huskies’ career, when he seemed to have more than his share of whiffs on passes into his hands.
“I had a drop today, but I came back with a couple of catches,” he said. “It’s part of the game. I’m not really worried about it. I’m not going to catch every single ball. I just have to work through it.
“I just want to be consistent in everything I do — running good routes, catching, blocking, playing on special teams.”
It’s a lot on Kearse’s plate. But this season, he doesn’t have worry about losing a lens, nor winning over doubters. The Seahawks have plenty of guys for that.