RENTON, WA - As the Seahawks kicked off another week of practice ahead of their preseason finale against the Chargers, a "new" player was in their midst.
"There was a new guy, No. 82 out there, I didn't catch his name," head coach Pete Carroll joked after Tuesday's practice. "But he got on the field today, too."
That "new guy," of course, would be Luke Willson, who is actually rather familiar with the confines of the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. After all, he's now called it his NFL home for parts of eight of his nine career seasons.
Originally taken by the Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the LaSalle, Ontario native signed his sixth contract with the team on Tuesday.
He started the 2020 season on their active roster but was released in early November, moving on to play three games for the Ravens before being cut there as well. Signing back with Seattle's practice squad in December, he finished the year where he began and earned a promotion to the active roster for the team's wild-card loss to Los Angeles in January.
Staying in the Pacific Northwest during the offseason, Willson awaited an opportunity to continue his professional playing career. With Seahawks tight ends Tyler Mabry and Colby Parkinson nursing foot injuries, that opportunity finally presented itself.
"[We brought Willson back] to make sure we had enough depth at the tight end position," Carroll said of the reunion. "And there's a couple uncertainties with Tyler [Mabry] just barely making it back today and with Colby [Parkinson]; we're not sure what's gonna happen with Colby. So we thought we needed a little bit of help there and so, Luke was right here for us."
As Carroll noted, Mabry returned to practice on Tuesday. Prior to his return and Willson's simultaneous arrival, the Seahawks had just three healthy tight ends on their roster: Gerald Everett, Will Dissly and Cam Sutton—the first two of which have yet to play in the preseason.
Against the Raiders and Broncos the past two weeks, tight end duties fell entirely on the shoulders of Sutton and Dom Wood-Anderson. But over the course of both games, Wood-Anderson accounted for seven penalties and two dropped passes and was, as expected, cut this past Sunday night.
Willson not only gives the Seahawks a hedge for if Mabry and/or Parkinson are unable to play come Week 1, but he brings a presence and personality many of his teammates have become fond of over the years.
"I think it's real important; certainly is important to our program," Carroll expressed. "We're trying to live on the high-end of this thing and keep the spirit up, keep the energy high. Expectations are really high to do that and it takes leadership and participation. Certain people just have more juice than others, you know? Luke has always been a great part of that for us and he's just one of my favorites that we've had in the program over the years."
Keeping that fun spirit alive, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Willson's appearance stood out among his peers on Tuesday. Now sporting long-flowing blonde locks, the Canadian's new look caught the attention of those in attendance, including his head coach.
"Yeah, we talked about the tips," Carroll said playfully. "[Nick] Bellore was thinking he might go that way too, so I don't know, it might be a trend. I'm not sure."
As for how Willson's play looked on the field in his first practice back, Carroll was satisfied.
"He looked fine," Carroll exclaimed. "He's been working really hard. He's real trim and he ran well, caught a few balls—did a nice job today."
While it's unclear how long Willson will remain in Seattle this time around, he gives the Seahawks a much-needed security blanket at a crucial position on their roster. Depending on the health of Mabry and Parkinson, his time back may only span a week or linger on into the regular season.
Whatever the case may be, the team is happy to have No. 82 home again.