RENTON, WA - Staying in the Puget Sound region as a fourth-round pick out of the University of Washington in the 2018 NFL Draft, Seahawks tight end Will Dissly instantly built a strong rapport with quarterback Russell Wilson.
Equally passionate about the game of football as well as their faith and sharing the same sense of humor, Dissly and Wilson hit it off right off the bat. They logged extra reps on the practice field whenever possible and attended bible study together, developing a close relationship on and off the field that paid immediate dividends.
In his first NFL regular season game, Dissly caught three passes from Wilson for 105 yards and a touchdown as Seattle came up just short in a 27-24 loss to Denver. He would score his second touchdown the ensuing week in another close loss to Chicago, emerging as one of the top rookie tight ends in the league.
Unfortunately, severe leg injuries prematurely ended each of Dissly's first two seasons - he was on pace for a monster campaign in 2019 with 23 receptions, 262 yards, and four touchdowns in five games before rupturing his Achilles tendon - and he and Wilson never recaptured that magic over the past two years. Despite playing in 31 out of 33 regular season games, he caught 45 passes for 482 yards and just three touchdowns.
Going into his second season in offensive coordinator Shane Waldron's 12 personnel-heavy offense, the fifth-year tight end now finds himself in unfamiliar territory acclimating to life without the star quarterback, who was traded to the Broncos in March. But he's not fazed by the transition at all.
“It's still a Seahawk organization," Dissly said of Wilson's departure following Monday's first OTA practice. "We're competing, we're grinding, we're having fun. I miss my guy out here running around cracking jokes. It is definitely a different vibe, but we're still focused on what we got to do, which is be the best we can be.”
All smiles as always, Dissly unsurprisingly has taken the change of guard under center in stride with a large dose of optimism. After re-signing with the Seahawks on a three-year, $24 million contract in March, he's grateful for the opportunity to continue playing for the organization and working hard to create chemistry with Geno Smith and Drew Lock, who came to the Pacific Northwest as part of the Wilson deal.
While it can be tough to assess players during non-padded, non-contact practices in May and June, Dissly got off to a strong start on Monday. Coming open on a seam route during 7-on-7 drills, Lock lofted a perfect strike to him between three defenders for a 25-yard connection. So far, he's loving what he's seeing from all three of Seattle's quarterbacks as they vie to replace Wilson.
“All the quarterbacks are doing an amazing job," Dissly commented. "That's kind of the whole point of our time right now is to grow and compete and get better. Each one of those guys, they're doing what they can to put their best selves forward, and it's kind of spreading throughout the rest of the offense. All the receivers are stepping up, the tight ends are stepping up. We know it's a big year and we’ve got to do it right.”
As Lock continues to learn a new playbook and adjust to new teammates, Smith looks to have the early edge in the quarterback battle due to his familiarity with Waldron's scheme. Last season, he played admirably in four games with three starts replacing an injured Wilson, who spent a brief time on injured reserve recovering from surgery to repair a ruptured tendon in his right middle finger.
While Dissly didn't post gaudy stat lines with Smith orchestrating the offense - he wasn't targeted a single time in a loss to the Saints and win over the Jaguars - the two did seem to be in sync when they did hook up. The veteran backup completed four out of five targets for 37 yards and a touchdown when throwing to Dissly, posting a 137.1 passer rating and moving the chains twice on those pass attempts.
Looking back at those games a year ago, though Smith went 1-2 as a starter with two tough three-point losses to the Steelers and Saints and wasn't quite able to rally the Seahawks against the Rams after Wilson exited early, Dissly has plenty of confidence in Smith leading the offense moving forward.
“Geno's a competitor. He wants to win," Dissly said. "I don't think he was satisfied with the outcome of those games. We played some tough opponents. He stepped up, he wanted to be the guy, he wanted to win, and we'll ride or die with him.”
At this stage of the offseason, the Seahawks won't be naming a starting quarterback anytime soon and don't have to. According to Dissly, Smith has taken on an expanded leadership role with his knowledge of the playbook and having him around to "bestow some wisdom" on what Waldron wants has made for an easier transition for all parties following Wilson's departure.
That factor alone obviously won't win Smith the Week 1 starting nod, of course. As evidenced by his excellent touch pass down to the seam to Dissly on Monday, Lock brings clear and visible arm talent to the equation and if he continues to master the offense in quick order, the competition between the two of them could last deep into training camp and the preseason.
Either way, while analysts aren't keen on the Seahawks chances of being competitive in the NFC West entering the post-Wilson era, Dissly likes the direction things are trending in the final stage of the offseason program. Expecting to play a significant role on offense as a receiver and blocker, as a new-look roster continues to develop their own vibe, he trusts whoever wins the battle to do an effective job executing the offense and putting the team in a position to succeed.
“I would say everyone's kind of leaning on each other. Whoever's in control, whoever has the knowledge. Drew [Lock] comes from a different organization. Jake [Jacob Eason] comes from a different organization. Whatever information you can get in this time, is a win. Geno obviously being in Shane's [Waldron] system, having the knowledge of the routes and what the progressions are, is definitely helping.”