RENTON – To paraphrase the legendary philosopher Yogi Berra, it can get late early in an NFL training camp.
So even though the Seahawks have played just one preseason game and are less than three weeks into practice, one question had begun to be asked with increasing regularity in recent days – when would Seattle see something out of rookie receiver Gary Jennings?
The answer came Monday, delivered by Jennings himself in emphatic fashion.
During what was officially the 13th practice of training camp, Jennings – a fourth-round pick out of West Virginia taken number 120 overall – was the undeniable star.
“I think Gary had a great day today,” said quarterback Russell Wilson saying he estimated Jennings as having made “probably eight or so” catches.
One came on a throw from Wilson when Jennings adjusted a corner route to take it down the sideline and then leap and bring in the pass with one hand. Jennings also had a long gain on another throw from Paxton Lynch, as well as a touchdown in a red-zone session when he caught a pass from Lynch in traffic and bowled into the end zone for the score as he was wrapped up by cornerback Simeon Thomas.
“That was his best day yet,” said Wilson, who has known Jennings since coaching him on a YMCA basketball team when Jennings was in grade school and Wilson in high school in Richmond, Virginia. “He really needed it, I think, just being honest with you, just to make some plays and get the ball in his hands. One, to show to himself that he can be great in this league, hopefully. And two, I think ultimately just to (show) the team and everything else.’’
Jennings didn’t go quite that far, saying he was confident a breakthrough would come eventually and that one practice hardly solidifies anything.
“It was a good practice,” he said. “It’s just, when the opportunities come your way you’ve just got to capitalize on them. It’s all about being consistent. So I’ve got to go back out and do the next step.”
Still, coach Pete Carroll had labeled this a key week for young players to state their case with Seattle having 10 days between the first preseason game against Denver and the second at Minnesota this Sunday. Week 3 will be devoted more to getting the starters ready for the preseason game they traditionally play the most in, and then the Seahawks will have only a couple of days of practice before their fourth and final preseason game – against Oakland – and cutdown day on Aug. 31.
“This is really important for guys to show, and (show) where they fit in,” Carroll said.
And there may be no tougher position at which to figure out where the cuts are going to come for the Seahawks than at receiver
“It’s going to be hard to make this team, and it’s going to be interesting to see who makes it,” Wilson said.
Indeed, Seattle appears to have four locks at receiver – veterans Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown and David Moore (who have consistently worked as the starters in three-receiver sets) and touted rookie DK Metcalf.
Seattle might keep only one or two more – six is a usual number of receivers to keep – out of a group that includes draft picks Jennings and John Ursua (seventh-round, holdovers Malik Turner and Keenan Reynolds, and undrafted rookie free agent Jazz Ferguson, who was the star of the preseason opener against Denver.
Jennings has seemed safe since he was the 120th overall pick – the Seahawks haven’t cut a player taken that high before the beginning of the regular season since offensive tackle Robert Barr in 1996. Barr was the 77th overall pick. The highest pick of the Carroll era waived before the start of the regular season was receiver Chris Harper, taken 123rd overall in 2013.
But Jennings’ relative quiet over the first few weeks – including no receptions while playing 39 snaps on Thursday, the most of any receiver – had begun to raise some questions if Seattle might have a tough decision on its hands whether to keep him.
Jennings, though, says he hasn’t been stressing it, saying “I’ve just been worrying about myself as far as doing what I’ve got to do.”
He also knew there was a pretty valid reason for his slow start — a lingering hamstring injury suffered in the run-up to the draft that held him out of much of the offseason program.
“It’s just mainly getting into the continuity of things and just getting on the same page as everyone else,” he said. “It’s an adjustment because everyone else kind of had some time to get in there and get that flow going. But I’m working through that and making the most of it.”
The 6-1, 216-pounder says he’s being used mostly on the inside, or in the slot, with the Seahawks, which makes him a natural fit in the rotation behind Lockett, who is expected to play more in the slot this year to help offset the loss of the retired Doug Baldwin, with Moore, Brown and Metcalf all usually playing more on the outside.
Jennings’ red-zone touchdown Tuesday seemed to validate Carroll’s confidence in him. Carroll said “it’s been hard” on Jennings in the early going before then listing off a number of his attributes.
“He’s a monster out there,” Carroll said Sunday. “Really strong and explosive.”
Asked about the goalline catch, Jennings said “that’s my mantra. I like to be a physical player who is able to make those contested catches. So that’s what I do.’’
He finally got to show it to the Seahawks Monday for what they hope and expect is the first of many times.