RENTON, Wash. — As he tries to get up to speed, rookie receiver D’Wayne Eskridge has been putting in overtime with Russell Wilson. Their extra work happens extra early. On most mornings, Eskridge sets his alarm for 5:15 a.m. so that he and Wilson can hit the practice field by 6, right as the sun is rising over the berm at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
“It’s what I’ve got to do,” Eskridge said. “It hurts to get up that early, but it’s worth it in the long run.”
Indeed, this is what the Seattle Seahawks‘ second-round pick has to do in order to make up for all the time he lost while dealing with an injury to his big toe. Like any rookie receiver, he was already facing one of the steeper learning curves in the NFL, particularly due to the complexity of Seattle’s new scheme. It got even steeper when Eskridge was sidelined for much of the spring and the first three weeks of training camp (as well as the annual throwing sessions with Seahawks skill players that Wilson hosted in mid-July).
So for about 45 minutes to an hour, Wilson and Eskridge will go through routes, the hand signals they’ll use to communicate when going up-tempo, and all the nuances of the offense that new coordinator Shane Waldron is installing, which players have described as intricate.
Mind you, this is two hours before the workday officially begins with a special-teams meeting at 8. It’s almost three hours before the entire team meets at 8:45.
“There’s still dew on the grass,” Wilson said. “But it’s just good to go through the plays and really visualize it and to go through everything mentally.”
Every now and then, Eskridge will break the huddle in practice and appear momentarily uncertain about his alignment. But since he was activated off the Physically Unable to Perform list on Aug. 17, he has made more big plays than missteps.
Last week, he took a bubble screen and used his 4.39 speed to jet past several defenders, displaying the kind of run-after-the-catch ability that will be paramount with Seattle’s newfound emphasis on shorter, quicker throws. Earlier this week, Wilson hit Eskridge for a long touchdown when he got behind an undrafted rookie safety on a deep post.
The early work seems to be paying off.
“It says a lot about his understanding of what it takes,” coach Pete Carroll said. “And he’s following the lead, too. That wasn’t his idea. Russ was there and grabbed him and said come on. He’s been more than willing, and it’s helped him enormously because he’s out there and he plays fast. That means he knows what he’s doing and hanging in there with the learning of the installations. So it’s a real boost.”
When the Seahawks drafted Eskridge No. 56 overall with the first of their league-low three picks, he looked like the clear favorite to be their third receiver behind Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf to begin the season. But the more time he missed, that started to seem less certain.
Eskridge said the issue with his big toe was inflammation that might have started during rookie minicamp. The team’s equipment staff had him test out different styles and sizes of cleats as well as socks that kept his feet from sliding around until they came up with a combination that allowed him to run pain-free. Once that was figured out, he had to regain the conditioning he lost while sidelined before he could be activated.
Eskridge said he’s now 100%.
“He’s doing good, fitting right in,” Carroll said. “He’s really natural and things just come easy to him. When he does stuff, it looks the way it’s supposed to look whether it’s catching the ball or getting out of a break or even blocking and using his hands. He’s a very strong kid for his size and it shows. He’s got good power to him, which we thought, [but] he played so much split out and not in the slot and not active in all of those kinds of things. We just couldn’t evaluate those and we had to kind of guess a little bit.
“So far he’s doing fine. We would love to see him play this weekend.”
Saturday’s preseason finale against the Los Angeles Chargers will help the Seahawks decide which receiver(s), if any, they’ll keep on their 53-man roster beyond the presumed top five of Lockett, Metcalf, Eskridge, Freddie Swain and Penny Hart. The next question to be sorted out is what the pecking order will look like after Lockett and Metcalf when they open their season Sept. 12 at the Indianapolis Colts.
If Eskridge is going to claim the third spot, he’ll have to stay healthy and continue his upward trajectory.
One early morning at a time.
“He’s been doing a really great job,” Wilson said. “We’ve been spending so much extra class time together out in the field, like real reps out in the field — running through every situation, every play, from top to bottom. He’s doing a tremendous job with it. So I have tremendous confidence in what he’s doing … and I’m super excited about him.”