Leon Washington, RB #33
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
College: Florida State
Experience: 7 years
Leon Washington was not kidding last week when he said that he and his teammates on the return teams have a good plan for success this season. They put it in motion Sunday in Arizona, creating an 83-yard kick return and a 54-yard punt return that set up 10 of Seattle’s 16 points.
It was Washington’s best performance since he tallied 230 return yards, with a 92-yard touchdown, against San Francisco in December 2010. He returned three kicks for touchdowns that year, including two against San Diego early in the season. But he never got free for one last year after kickoffs were moved up to the 35-yard line.
Washington’s seven career kick-return touchdowns are second in NFL history to the eight by Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs. Washington has more than former return greats Mel Gray, Dante Hall and Gale Sayers (all with six). And he wants to get back into the end zone this year.
“Guys like Mike (Robinson) and Heath (Farwell), the other leaders on special teams, know how badly I would like to have that record,” Washington told Seahawks.com last week. “So we’re working on just getting it. We did a really good job of scouting ourselves this year to see how we can improve. We feel like we’ve got a really good game plan coming into this season, so we feel like we’re going to have an opportunity to get it.”
Washington came close twice on Sunday. His 83-yard return to Arizona’s 24-yard line set up Seattle’s only touchdown, and his punt return resulted in a go-ahead field goal. He was visibly annoyed to have been caught on the punt return after nearly clearing the coverage.
“He gave us a chance,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters. “He lit it up…Those were fantastic runs, and great blocking too, to go along with it.”
Washington has been one of the best acquisitions by Carroll and GM John Schneider, who basically stole him from the New York Jets during the 2010 draft.
A fourth-round pick by the Jets in 2006, Washington became their kick returner in 2007 and took three kicks back for touchdowns. He added another in 2008. But he suffered a broken leg in 2009 and was still recovering in early 2010, so the Jets decided to draft Joe McKnight and trade Washington, whom they didn’t think would be ready for the season. The Seahawks got Washington and a seventh-rounder (Dexter Davis) for a fifth.
Washington immediately paid dividends with the three returns for touchdowns in 2010. In Week 3, he ran back two kickoffs––101 and 99 yards––to lift Seattle to a 27-20 win over San Diego. He added a 92-yard TD return in a loss at San Francisco in December. He nearly had another one against Carolina, but was tripped up by the punter at the 2-yard line after an 84-yard gallop.
His three kick-return TDs are a team record, his two-TD game tied an NFL record, and his four scoring returns for the Jets are a record for that team.
The Seahawks were so satisfied with him that they re-signed him to a four-year, $12.5 million deal after the 2010 season.
Washington should have had another touchdown last year in Cleveland, but the officials called a bogus block-in-the-back penalty against him on an 81-yard punt return that would have won the game for Seattle. It would have been his first punt return for a score.
Even though he did not score last season, he still provided steady field position as one of the league’s top return men — just as he has for most of his six years in the league. Washington was tied for seventh in punt-return average (11.3) and was 11th with a 25.2-yard kick-return average (McKnight led the league at 31.6, with one score). Those averages put Washington up there with Green Bay’s Randall Cobb and San Francisco’s Ted Ginn (each with two scores) and Cribbs as the top dual return threats in the league.
But it is clear that Washington and his teammates want more in 2012. Robinson told Seahawks.com last week, “That’s a big goal of our special teams this year, is to get him in the end zone as much as possible and affect field position in every game in a positive way.”
If Sunday is any indication, they seem poised to do all of that.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.