RENTON, WA - After general manager John Schneider and the Seahawks traded back into the 2019 NFL Draft to select John Ursua, the rookie arrived at his first training camp with high expectations for a seventh-round pick.
After all, Ursua had been one of the nation's most prolific receivers at Hawaii in 2018, producing 1,343 receiving yards and 16 touchdown receptions, the most by any player at the FBS level. Over three seasons with the Warriors, he had caught nearly 200 receptions in just 33 games, thriving in their spread offensive attack.
Considering his production - and the fact he was viewed as a polished route runner - many fans expected Ursua would compete immediately for snaps out of the slot, where he ran more than 90 percent of his routes during his final collegiate season. His stellar preseason numbers (four receptions for 100 yards, one carry for 11 yards, and four first downs) only added fuel to the fire.
But despite his success in exhibition games, on the practice field, Ursua struggled to grasp the Seahawks system during camp. He was a step behind many of the team's other receivers in terms of understanding the fine details of a much more complicated scheme coordinated by Brian Schottenheimer.
As a result, though he made the team and stayed on the 53-man roster for the entire season, Ursua dressed for only three regular season games. He played a grand total of 11 offensive snaps and didn't record his first reception until Week 17 against the 49ers when he made a clutch fourth down play and nearly caught a game-winning touchdown.
One year later, Schottenheimer sees a far more comfortable Ursua, who has been playing faster and not been weighed down by thinking too much about the fine details. The results have been showing on the practice field throughout camp.
"J.U.'s done a really good job picking up the system. Last year was hard for him coming from Hawaii, more of that spread system where all they did was run option routes, things like that," Schottenheimer told reporters on Monday. "He has tremendous ability at the line of scrimmage, so as we kinda work our choice option games, he's always been very natural at that. It’s some of the other things, the details and stuff, that he’s been off on. This year, that’s been completely different."
In last Saturday's scrimmage, Ursua was heavily featured on the opening drive, catching two passes from Geno Smith and receiving a carry on a jet sweep. Then on Monday, Schottenheimer praised him for another excellent overall effort, citing a couple of big plays connecting with Russell Wilson as well as Smith.
"He’s been on top of the details. He’s been mentally making quick decisions with some of the hot adjustments and things we have to do. So, he’s been extremely impressive," Schottenheimer continued. "He's playing more rather than thinking a lot. Last year I think he was having to think 'Okay what’s this route mean, what’s my split?' and this year he looks much more relaxed, much more comfortable.”
Looking at Seattle's depth at the position, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf were cemented as the top two receivers before training camp even started. Newcomer Phillip Dorsett has been a favorite target for Wilson in practice and made several splash plays downfield, likely making him the front runner to earn the No. 3 role.
But Ursua has been equally as impressive over the past few weeks, consistently producing in team sessions and also standing out as a potential kick return specialist.
After exiting Tuesday's practice with an ice pack on his leg, it remains unclear whether or not Ursua's injury is serious or not. But assuming he's able to return to action in the next few days, with a far better understanding of the intricacies of the Seahawks' offense, he has a legitimate chance to be a major factor in the team's passing game in 2020.