As is typically the case in any season opener, the Seahawks had several veterans and rookies set to make their regular season debuts with the team last Sunday against the Colts in Indianapolis.
Of course, fans were eager to see tight end Gerald Everett and right guard Gabe Jackson don Seattle uniforms in meaningful games that count for the first time themselves. But none of those debuts may have been more anticipated than speedy receiver Dee Eskridge, who the team selected in the second round out of Western Michigan back in April.
Though Eskridge only recently returned to action from a toe injury and spent the first three weeks of training camp on the PUP list, he made enough plays on the practice field and in the team's preseason finale late last month to showcase the playmaking elements he could bring the Seahawks offense as a complementary weapon next to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
While a concussion knocked Eskridge out of action early in the fourth quarter on Sunday after just 12 offensive snaps, those intriguing traits were evident once again in limited action. The dynamic rookie produced 22 yards on a pair of jet sweeps, flew all over the formation in pre-snap motion to help create deception and signal misdirection to the opposing defense, and added his first NFL catch for six yards.
Even considering his uncertain injury situation, coach Pete Carroll couldn't stop raving about Eskridge's skill set during his weekly radio show on ESPN 710 on Monday.
“He’s really explosive. He’s not just fast and explosive – he knows how to use it,” Carroll told host Mike Salk. “You’ll see him as he gets openings, man he knows how to hit it. He’s got a good feel for blocks and setting things up and all that. He’s going to make some really big plays this year.”
After not seeing the field on Seattle's opening possession, which culminated with Russell Wilson throwing a 23-yard touchdown pass to Lockett, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron sent Eskridge in jet motion across the formation on his first play to kick off the next possession. Though he wasn't given the ball in this instance, the threat of his speed occupied the attention of Indianapolis' linebackers, helping set up a nine-yard gain to Everett on quick screen.
Eskridge wouldn't receive a touch on the drive before Wilson found Everett for a nine-yard touchdown on a slant, but Waldron finally got him involved on the Seahawks fourth possession late in the half while nursing a 14-10 lead.
Going back to the jet motion, Wilson handed it off to him this time and faked a handoff to Chris Carson in the backfield, briefly freezing the linebackers at the second level. Turning on his afterburners with the ball in his hands, Eskridge took advantage of an excellent kick out block by Everett and turned upfield at the numbers, picking up 13 yards before being dragged down by All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard.
Two plays later, with the Colts playing Cover 4 with two deep safeties, the cornerback opposite of Eskridge provided 10 yards of cushion, allowing the receiver to run a quick hitch with ease. Wilson delivered a strike and the receiver nearly picked up the first down before being pushed out of bounds.
Unfortunately, the Seahawks didn't get to see much more from Eskridge the rest of the game, in part because the team is still slowly working him back into more extensive playing time after missing most of camp. Wilson didn't target him on any of his last three offensive snaps and then he took a shot after picking up nine yards on a second jet sweep, forcing him to leave the game for evaluation of a concussion.
As far as when Eskridge and fellow receiver Penny Hart, who also left with a concussion on Sunday, will be available to play again, Carroll couldn't provide a timeline on Monday. The Seahawks should have a better idea where both players stand in their respective recoveries and how long they could be out on Wednesday.
“It’s going to take a couple days to get it done. They’re not the same. It’s individual cases. There’s a time frame sequence they have to follow through to make it back. Nothing to make a prediction about right now other than we’ll see what happens all the way up to Wednesday. That’s when it starts back towards their return.”
Nonetheless, Carroll remains quite encouraged by everything he's seen from Eskridge as a receiver and runner and once he receives the green light to return to action, he has no doubts the player will develop rapidly and continue to become a bigger focal point in Waldron's offense as the year progresses.
“He’s a good route runner, he’s got fantastic catching range and really strong hands. He’s really good with the ball out and away from him on deep stuff… We want to make sure that he comes along with confidence and he’ll grow fast if we do that.”