SEATTLE – Somehow, DK Metcalf didn’t debut with a 100-yard pass reception and vault into the upper deck to celebrate.
The Seahawks’ rookie wide receiver didn’t juke anyone out of their shoes, didn’t rip off his jersey and shoulder pads in midflight to show off his Mr. Universe physique.
In other words, Metcalf won’t be rerouted straight to Canton, after all, after catching one pass for 8 yards in the Seahawks’ preseason opener Thursday night against Denver at CenturyLink Field.
Metcalf’s first game action as an NFL player, in which he played the entire first half and sat out the second, was mundane, not magical, and there’s a lesson to be learned.
Maybe it’s time to cut down, just a wee bit, on the near-hysterical hype, and tamp down the expectations to merely “unlimited” instead of “instant immortality.”
Built up to mythical proportions in the offseason, a cross between Calvin Johnson and Paul Bunyan, touted as a potential Hall of Famer by Russell Wilson, Metcalf looked suspiciously like a rookie with some learning to do.
A prodigiously talented rookie, with unlimited potential, but a rookie nonetheless.
Of course, if Wilson and not Geno Smith had been the Seahawks quarterback, perhaps Metcalf would have hauled in a long touchdown pass when he blew past Denver cornerback De’Vante Bausby in the second quarter. And then I could have waxed lyrical, along with everyone else with a keyboard, up to and including J.K. Rowling, about the dawning of a new Seahawks legend and a new NFL demigod.
Instead, Smith’s pass was a yard or two too long, and the crowd, which has been primed all spring and summer to expect heroics from Metcalf, groaned as the ball fell to the ground.
Later in the first half, Smith threw an accurate-enough long ball to Metcalf after he again got separation from the defensive back. This time, Metcalf simply was unable to haul it in. He extended fully, only to have the ball go off his fingertips, causing Metcalf to slam the ground with his fist in frustration.
“Oh, just a hair from spectacular,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Metcalf’s night. “He’s made a couple of those catches before. … You could see him, he got behind him, just like we’re hoping. He’s a big threat.”
Asked if he thought he should have caught the latter ball, Metcalf replied, “Yes, sir. It was the second time it was close and off my fingertips. But I knew we’re going to go back to practice and work on it, and we’ll get better after that.”
It’s foolish to draw any definitive conclusions from the first preseason game, of course – especially when Wilson never left the bench. The Seahawks looked every bit like a team trying to shake off the rust, especially during Smith’s segment. With most of the regulars on the bench, the offense often lacked rhythm and pace.
But it’s just as dangerous to anoint any first-year player as a savior before they’ve played a single down in a game that counts – let alone a game that doesn’t count, such as Thursday’s.
If any new receiver showed off his tools in especially impressive fashion, in fact, it was Jazz Ferguson, the 6-foot-5, 228-pound rookie from Northwestern State who caught four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. Of course, Ferguson was working with a quarterback, Paxton Lynch, who at least on this night dramatically outplayed Smith.
Metcalf’s only reception came on the first play that targeted him: An 8-yard comeback route from Smith. Metcalf also caught the next ball thrown to him for a short gain, but it was negated when David Moore was whistled for an illegal block.
After that, Metcalf’s night could be characterized by a word yet to be associated with him: quiet.
That’s an adjective that seems ill-fitting for a guy who has been as loud, metaphorically, as any Seahawks rookie in recent memory. Jarring, even, on a night when Seattle did some encouraging things on both sides of the ball, though it’s hard to judge much of anything in a sloppy exhibition game.
Don’t interpret this to mean that I’ve soured on Metcalf, or that he can’t be every bit of the wunderkind that he’s been touted to be. But what we’ve seen from Metcalf so far – the eye-popping measurables during the combine, the shirtless shots of his impossibly buffed physique, the succession of spectacular plays in rookie minicamp, OTAs and training camp – made it easy to think he had arrived as a finished product.
The NFL will eventually be humbling for any player, regardless of his skill set. Metcalf provided a valuable reminder of his vulnerability Thursday afternoon, when he tweeted a picture of himself lying unconscious in a hospital bed, hooked up to all sorts of machines.
“All glory to God for this opportunity,” he tweeted, with a picture of praying hands followed by, “10/22/18.”
That was the date – less than a year ago – when he underwent season-ending neck surgery after injuring himself while playing for Ole Miss against Arkansas.
“It’s knowing what I’ve gone through the past 10 months, dealing with my injury and just knowing I was given a second opportunity by God to play this game, so not taking it for granted,” Metcalf explained.
That injury probably played a large role in keeping Metcalf from being drafted in the first round. Instead, he lasted until the last pick of the second round, when his selection by Seattle led to a cathartic release of emotions by Metcalf during a memorable phone conversation with GM John Schneider and Carroll.
From that point on, it’s been nothing but soaring moments of grandeur for Metcalf. And I’d suspect there are many more to come – but also some inevitable growing pains.
“It just feels great to get that first game out of the way, and I’m already looking forward to next week against the Vikings,” Metcalf said.
Perhaps a slight pause in the hype might not be the worst thing.
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