Seahawks rookie Michael Dickson has been about as eye-popping as a punter could be this preseason. But he warns: don't expect the magic he produced with his right leg at Minnesota last week to occur on a regular basis.
During Seattle's 21-20 loss, the Australian-born Dickson plopped two punts deep in Vikings' territory that bounced out of bounds at the three-yard line as if Dickson had willed them to do so. Alas, he did not.
"You can't have that happening on every punt," he said following practice with an Australian accent. "I mean, I wish."
Maybe not. Still, the magic in Dickson's right leg could help Seattle tip the scales in the field position battle in the Seahawks' favor on a regular basis.
Dickson's five punts at Minnesota averaged 53.5 yards. On the season, Dickson is averaging 52.5 yards on 11 punts. Last season's league leader, Tennessee's Brett Kern, averaged 49.7 yards per attempt. Pro Football Focus has given Dickson a punting grade of 89.1. The next closest is 77.6.
Keep in mind: The Texas rookie, who grew up playing Australian Rules Football, has been lofting footballs with his right foot for all of three seasons. His fourth begins Sept. 9 when Seattle plays its season opener at Denver. The Seahawks end their preseason tonight against Oakland.
“What he has shown us so far is stuff that we’d never seen," Seattle coach Carroll said. "We’ll see how it goes and if any of it fits into our game to allow us to do different things, I don’t know that yet. But, he has tremendous versatility and he has an upbringing as a kicker that we’ve never seen, none of us have ever seen before. So, it’s really fun.”
At Texas, Dickson set a program record by averaging 45.3 yards per punt. Maybe most impressive is that 41 of his 84 punts ended up inside the opposing team's 20-yard line. He was named MVP of the Longhorns' 33-16 win over Missouri in the Texas Bowl after he punted 11 times for 452 yards with 10 landing inside Missouri's 15-yard line and only two resulting in touchbacks.
So, it shouldn't be any surprise that Dickson performed the way he did at Minnesota. However, Dickson did surprise himself.
His first punt of the night landed at the Vikings' six-yard line at about the numbers and bounced to the right and out of bounds at the three-yard line for a net of 57 yards. In the third quarter, Dickson launched a punt that covered 56 yards, landed and again went out of bounds at the Vikings' 3.
At that point it appeared that maybe Dickson, the Ray Guy Award winner as a junior at Texas, had mind control over the football. Not so.
"You can only design so much of that," Dickson said. "You can kick it as close as you can to the boundary. But the chances of getting a bounce like that both times aren't high."
Dickson said that the key is getting a good spiral and proper landing on the right playing field surface that will prevent the ball from bouncing into the end zone.
"On a grass field, it could have skidded through and I wouldn't have gotten them so close," Dickson said.
Minnesota's turf field provided a greater chance for the ball to bounce to the side rather than forward.
"There's so many variables that go into it," Dickson said. "I can't do that on purpose. I can't say I want to hit it to the one and make it shoot right."
MINNEAPOLIS-This rookie punter for Seattle, Michael Dickson, is an absolute phenom. Two monster punts tonight land inside the 5-, take hard right turns, and go OB at the 3 both times. Wait till you see this guy.— Peter King (@peter_king) August 25, 2018
He can increase the likelihood of that happening, Dickson says, by testing out the field and conditions during warm-ups to see how the ball plays off of the turf based on loft and distance. Dickson's most valuable asset might be his ability to get great distance while also maximizing hang time, which allows the punt coverage team to get to the return man before he has room to take off.
At times, Dickson said, he attempts to put backspin on the ball in hopes that it won't bounce forward.
"It's all about increasing the odds of getting a good bounce," he said.
Still, it's a crapshoot, which is why he couldn't believe he pulled off landing two punts inside Minnesota's five-yard line.
"I was laughing at it, really," Dickson said. "To have the first one get a good bounce like that, I was smiling and happy. and then to get another one like that, it was funny to me. No way. Save some for these bounces for the actual season."
Dickson is not perfect. A fourth-quarter punt that resulted in a 34-yard return came about due to a mistake.
"I had too much hang and not enough distance, and bad placement that ended up in a return," Dickson following the game. "I was pretty frustrated about that, but I’ll just work on that throughout the week.
He does so by not focusing too much on mechanics.
"I'm not a big technique guy," he said. "I don't really like breaking down film of me punting. It just makes me think too much."
He'd rather search for the right feel.
"I fix my the problem by punting," he said. "If I'm not hitting the ball with enough hang I won't say 'hold the ball higher or do this with your leg.' I'll just go kick it higher and my body will do it."
That process, he said, comes from playing football in Australia where he says athletes simply tell their body to do something and the body responds.
Dickson didn't grow up watching very much NFL football but he does recall viewing a Super Bowl for the first time and being enamored with the spectacle of it all. It seemed to him to be a league so large, so far away and so far out of his reach.
Now, here he is. It turns out that the NFL was only a leg's length away.
"I feel like I belong here," he said.
The Seahawks are eager to find out just how good he could become.
"He’s a very, very versatile kicker, punter," Carroll said. "There’s just a lot of things that we’re excited about with him and we need to get it going."