RENTON, Wash. — Leon Washington wants to go down as the best kick returner to play in the NFL.
His seven kickoff return touchdowns are second all-time to the eight by Cleveland Browns return specialist Joshua Cribbs.
In 2010, Washington’s three kick return touchdowns were critical in helping the Seahawks make the playoffs in Pete Carroll’s first season as head coach. But last year, the Seahawks’ special teams unit wasn’t successful in paving the way to the end zone for Washington. It was the first time in Washington’s career that he had more than 40 kick return chances and failed to find the end zone.
In the team’s season opener against Arizona last week, Washington broke an 83-yard kickoff return that set Seattle up in prime position for the Seahawks’ only touchdown of the game. He then managed to break free for 52 yards on a punt return that led to a field goal to give Seattle a 16-13 lead in the fourth quarter.
“It felt good for our return units to go out there and execute what we’ve been talking about all offseason long,” Washington said.
The Seahawks had to adjust to changes in kick return rules a season ago. The league banned the use of the wedge on kickoffs and moved the kickoffs up to the 35-yard line. It changed not only how kickoffs could be blocked, but also where on the field the return teams were going to engage their defenders.
“You’ve got to make your blocks a lot deeper because the combat zone is happening a lot deeper,” fullback Michael Robinson said. “It used to happen between the 20- and 30-(yard line), now it’s happening between the 10- and 20-(yard line). That’s an adjustment for people blocking cause you’ve got to back stuff up. That’s just adjusting to the rules.”
The Seahawks struggled to find the proper balance a season ago with Washington’s longest return was only 54 yards and his only trip to the end zone, an 81-yard punt return against the Browns, was nullified because of a penalty.
“Everybody was new to the rule last year,” Washington said. “Some teams did better. We actually didn’t do too bad as far as average but putting the ball in the end zone and creating opportunities for our offense is what we didn’t do.”
The Seahawks self-scouted their special teams units during the offseason to find out how to better address their return game. With Washington’s success in week one, they seem to have succeeded in finding the areas they needed to improve. With a dangerous returner in Washington, it gives Seattle extra opportunities to score.
“If you block it right every time, he’ll score every time,” Robinson said.