Seahawks poised to break one of NFL’s oldest records

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Seattle QB Wilson drafted by Rangers

By JAYSON JENKS

of The Seattle Times

RENTON — On his way to work at 6:30 Thursday morning, Russell Wilson’s phone started ringing. He looked at the number and saw the area code was from Arlington, Texas.

He had no idea who it was.

On the other end was Jon Daniels, the general manager of the Texas Rangers, who had news: The Rangers had drafted Wilson during Thursday’s Rule 5 draft.

Wilson won’t play baseball, but the Rangers liked his leadership and his work ethic, and wanted him to at least come talk to their team. They paid $12,000 to acquire him from the Colorado Rockies.

“I’m sure I’ll go down there for spring training and talk to some of their players and hang out some,” Wilson said. “It will be kind of a cool experience. But that’s down the road.”

Wilson also squashed any notion, however farfetched, of becoming a two-sport pro athlete. When asked if he thought about becoming the next multi-sport star like Bo Jackson, he said: “I’ve thought about it before. I’m not going to lie. But I’m just focused on football.”

The Rangers, however, left the door open for Wilson to join them if he ever had the itch to play baseball.

“We feel like if he ever decided he wanted to come back and play again, he’d be a guy that we’d want in our system with us and see him develop,” Rangers assistant general manager A.J. Preller told ESPN. “The biggest thing that intrigued us on Russell from afar is the makeup. I think the way he goes about his business, the professionalism, the competitor, (that’s) the message that we try to preach throughout our organization.

“At the end of the day, he obviously has a lot bigger things that he’s working on right now, and we don’t want to interrupt that aspect of it, but if at some point down the road he decides he wants to do the baseball thing again, we felt like it would be a positive to have him with us.”

According to a baseball source, the Mariners considered drafting Wilson in the Class AA portion of the Rule 5 Draft, but the Rangers beat them to it. Drafting Wilson then would have only cost $4,000.

It seemed like a foregone conclusion at one point that Wilson would play baseball.

He was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the fifth round in 2007 but elected to be a two-sport athlete at North Carolina State instead.

“I was leaning toward (entering the draft),” Wilson told ESPN in 2008, “but a college education is something you’ll always have.”

The Colorado Rockies picked him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, and he played two seasons of minor-league baseball while still at N.C. State. He hit .229 with eight home runs in his minor-league career.

Even people associated with Wilson at N.C. State thought he would play baseball after college because it was his best opportunity.

“That was a given,” said Annabelle Myers, media-relations director at N.C. State. “That’s what everybody thought. And Russell keeps his cards pretty close, but that was never his idea. He always intended to go to the NFL. Talking to him, that was never the case. Now I’m not saying he didn’t plan on doing both.”

Wilson, though, said he is only focused on playing for the Seahawks.

“There’s nothing better than playing the quarterback position and playing in front of 90,000 people,” he said. “That’s why I decided to play football. I love those moments.”

RENTON, Wash. — About a month or so ago, the members of the Seattle Seahawks’ punt coverage team began to realize that what is one of the oldest and most obscure of NFL records could soon be theirs.

As the Seahawks prepare to play the New York Giants on Sunday, they have allowed just 15 yards on punt returns all season.

The NFL record for fewest yards allowed on punt returns in a season is 22, set by the last of Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers teams in 1967. That, though, came in a 14-game season. The record for a 16-game season is 49 by the Atlanta Falcons in 2008.

Either mark is fine with the Seahawks.

“If we can break a record, that’s definitely something we can take pride in,’’ said special-teams captain Heath Farwell. “That’s something we have been eyeballing for a while.”

The last time the Seahawks allowed a punt-return yard was Oct. 28, when they held St. Louis’ Tavon Austin, one of the more dangerous returners in the NFL, to 7 yards on three returns.

“That’s when we started talking about it a little bit,’’ said punter Jon Ryan.

Two years ago, Seattle had one of its worst seasons covering punts, allowing 541 yards, third-most in team history.

Ryan was the punter then, too, a year when he set a club record with an average of 46.6 yards.

This year, he’s averaging 42.6 yards. But less has turned out to be more.

“When I was younger, I gave up a lot of return yards because I was known as a big-leg guy that liked to get it out there but didn’t always have the greatest hang time,’’ Ryan said. “So a lot of those punts were coming back 10-15 yards every time. Those add up.’’

This year, Ryan more often uses “an Aussie kick,” a style used in Australian Rules Football. Essentially, the ball is kicked on the nose instead of in the middle, creating an end-over-end punt rather than a spiral.

“By doing that I can control the ball and where I place it and the distance a little bit easier than the traditional spiral punt,’’ Ryan said. That makes punts harder to return and easier for those covering to get in position to make tackles.

Ryan has used it for years when he wanted the ball downed inside the 10 or 20. “We’re doing it a lot more in the open field,” he said.

Another big factor is punt-team coverage, particularly primary gunners Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane, who line up outside and race downfield.

“It’s just unbelievable how fast they are getting down there and forcing fair catches,” said Farwell.

In fact, 22 of Ryan’s 52 punts have been fair caught, the second-highest percent in the NFL (Denver has 23 fair catches on 52 punts).

Only 13 of Ryan’s punts have been returned, also No. 2 in the league.

The longest return against Seattle this season is 10 by Carolina’s Ted Ginn Jr. in the season opener.

Seattle, meanwhile, has gained 461 yards on its own punt returns, which ranks third in the NFL. The differential of 446 is the widest in the league.

The punt team hasn’t been perfect. Ryan had a kick blocked last week when the team blew a simple blocking assignment.

“When you can’t get much of a return, the alternative is to rush us and hurry (Ryan),” Farwell said.

With three regular-season games left, though, history remains in their sights.

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