Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett was already going to face heightened expectations coming off a breakout season during which he became Russell Wilson's favorite target.
Then Doug Baldwin was released — likely headed toward retirement — and Lockett was left with a new role.
"His presence, that's the biggest thing that is going to be missed," Lockett said Tuesday. "It's kind of hard when you've always had a vet to be able to teach you the ropes, allow you to be able to learn the ins and outs on the field and off the field, and how to carry yourself in the type of world we live in. Different stuff like that. Not to have that every single day is going to be hard. It's very hard to transition, but each and every day and each and every year something new happens."
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And then Lockett added, "It's time for me to step up and fulfill the role I'm called to be in this year."
Replacing its most consistent and productive wide receiver from the past half-dozen years is one of the major challenges Seattle will face going into training camp and the start of the season. Baldwin led Seattle in catches in four straight seasons from 2014-17 before Lockett had a career-high 57 receptions and 10 touchdowns last season to lead the Seahawks. Baldwin dealt with injuries most of the year, but still finished with 50 catches in the regular season.
Seattle did its part in the draft by taking three wide receivers — highlighted by the selection of DK Metcalf — to try to fill some of the void left by Baldwin's departure. But those new faces will be looking to Lockett as the most experienced pass catcher in Seattle's locker room.
"I think it happens naturally. They watch the way he works. He doesn't have to say much just because of the way he works," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said.
Lockett showed last season that he was fully recovered from the broken leg he suffered late in the 2016 season, an injury that still affected him in 2017. His 57 receptions came on just 70 targets. His catch percentage of 81.4% was among the highest in the league for wide receivers. But Lockett was able to get open as much as he did in part because Baldwin was on the field, even in a limited capacity due to his injuries. The attention paid to Baldwin helped Lockett thrive.
The loss of Baldwin may allow Seattle to move Lockett around the field more than in the past, including opportunities to work as a slot receiver and see if that could be another area where Lockett can exploit defenses. Or, as Schottenheimer described, "The best weapon for us is when they don't know where Tyler will be."
"For me it's all about just being able to further my game wherever I'm at," Lockett said. "Wherever I'm at, it's all about trying to get open or get other people open. And that's what it's all about."
© 2020 Associated Press