Each of the past two offseasons, while the majority of his teammates were in the midst of training for the upcoming season, Seahawks tight end Will Dissly found himself entrenched in rigorous rehab attempting to come back from serious, potentially career-threatening injuries.
But after playing in all 16 regular season games for the first time in his NFL career in 2020 and making his playoff debut, Dissly is happily enjoying a normal offseason for the first time since his rookie year. Instead of re-learning how to walk, he's continuing to work on re-gaining his pre-injury explosiveness. Instead of spending countless hours in rehabilitation, he's been able to sharpen his craft as a route runner and focus on getting himself into pristine football shape.
"We were able to do some really cool things coming off two pretty serious injuries the last year, and just kind of building on that," Dissly said in an interview with Jake Heaps and Stacy Jo Rost of ESPN 710. "I'm feeling really good, I'm in really good shape. Kind of able to balance out — asymmetry, when you get hurt, one leg is stronger than the other so this year it's been a lot of single leg focus and making sure that both of my legs are equally as strong, and getting that explosive movement back. It's definitely showing. Running routes is a lot easier. Getting off the line is a lot easier."
It's been a long road back to normalcy for Dissly. Last spring, the former Washington standout flew down to Southern California as he worked his way back from an Achilles tendon tear that cost him the final 10 games of the 2019 season. One year earlier, he leaned heavily on friends and family back in Montana as he grinded through an arduous process recovering from a torn patellar tendon in his right knee.
In both instances, the injuries brought strong seasons by Dissly to an abrupt halt. As a rookie, he reeled in eight passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns in just four games, quickly becoming a trusted target for Russell Wilson. One year later, he was putting together an All-Pro caliber year for Seattle, catching 23 passes for 262 yards and four touchdowns in the first five games before rupturing his Achilles in Cleveland.
In his long-anticipated return to action, Dissly's overall receiving production last season paled in comparison to the numbers he put up during his first two seasons with the Seahawks. In part due to the arrival of Greg Olsen and presence of Jacob Hollister at the tight end position, he was only targeted 29 times in the passing game, finishing with just 24 receptions for 251 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns in 16 games.
But understandably, given all of the physical and emotional hardship he endured over the previous two years, a grateful Dissly was simply happy to stay healthy and play the entire season. Looking to build off of what he accomplished a year ago and take advantage of a real offseason, he has spent time working with Wilson in San Diego while also traveling eastward to Nashville to train alongside several of the NFL's best tight ends, including 49ers star George Kittle.
"With this year, being healthy and having a great offseason I thought I'd go down to Nashville, hang out with some friends, experience the city and workout alongside some other great tight ends," Dissly said. "Kittle, Rob Tonyan, T.J. Hockenson, and just a bunch of crews, I could list some names. They're actually getting together here at the end of June; Tight End U is what I think they're calling it. A little seminar Greg Olsen, Kittle and [Travis] Kelce are putting on. So, it's a good place, we're all cut from the same cloth, we're all trading secrets. It was really fun."
Aside from continuing to build a rapport with Wilson and learning from proven All-Pros such as Kittle and Kelce, Dissly should also benefit from the arrival of new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, who learned under Rams coach Sean McVay. Assuming the disciple's scheme compares favorably to what his former teacher runs in Los Angeles, Seattle will utilize quite a bit of 12 personnel groupings with two tight ends on the field at the same time.
Though he hasn't had a chance to work with Waldron on the field just yet, Dissly has been blown away by what he's seen and heard thus far in virtual meetings, which the Seahawks have been holding four times a week. Teaming up with newly-signed Gerald Everett and returning second-year tight end Colby Parkinson, he anticipates the group will take on a larger role within the team's aerial attack in 2021.
Entering the final year of his rookie contract and now more than 20 months removed from his Achilles injury, the system change should open the door for Dissly to round back into pre-2020 form and set him up for a breakout year, giving Wilson and the Seahawks another trusted weapon for opponents to worry about.
"It's been really fun. Shane's a really smart guy, his offense is really systematic… There's going to be some uniqueness, and the cool part about it is we're going to get some tight ends on the field. I think Gerald [Everett] and I are a great compliment, and Colby [Parkinson] and whoever else steps up, we're going to create a lot of problems for defenses around the league. We have a tough division and I think Shane's ready. He came prepared."