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Seahawks on tape: Nick Vannett attempts to replace Will Dissly

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Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Fourth round pick Will Dissly being placed on season-ending injured reserve hurts. A strong early favorite for Seattle Seahawks Rookie of the Year, the tight end’s innocuous looking patellar tendon injury on that cursed Arizona Cardinals turf is a massive blow. If Dissly had to miss a season through injury, such an ailment would surely come from blocking two offensive linemen into a linebacker. His unfortunate landing? Well, that really sucks.

But in the harsh NFL world the season continues; Seattle cannot afford to be paused in somber reflection. Instead, the Seahawks are left looking for their ‘next man up.’ That man is 2016 third round pick Nick Vannett, who’s suffered injury problems of his own.

Vannett appeared to be having a redshirt rookie year and then two doghouse years but now, finally healthy and in a starting position, a lot of responsibility lies with his performances. After all, Seattle currently has just one other natural tight end on their roster, the relatively unknown second-year Darrell Daniels. If things get even more desperate, fullback Tre Madden might have to play some tight end.

In this edition of Seahawks on tape, we’ll view Vannett’s standout plays against Arizona, good and bad. He played 54 snaps in total (82%) and he was roughly average in performance. We’ll start with the glitzy catching-the-ball stuff, and end with the nitty gritty dirty tasks that Seattle demands from its tight ends. If the Seahawks are going to insist on running into heavy boxes and run blitzes, Vannett must succeed.

Route Running

Regrettably, the glamorous parts of the game are what Vannett struggled with last Sunday. He rounded out his routes showing a poor awareness of the coverage and the play design. On play 1, the deep out he runs requires a sharper cut that recognizes the deep zone plus the underneath zone and bisects them. On play 2, it’s short yardage desperation meaning Vannett needs to be looking to get available to Wilson as soon as possible, there’s no point trying to separate more with a not-so-subtle push off.

Vannett’s improvisational ability to get open after a play breaks down is much better, as we saw in the pre-season and on the pass interference flag he drew late in the third quarter. In this respect, a link with Russell Wilson seems to be present.

Open Field Threat

What makes Vannett’s route running inadequacies all the more frustrating is he’s a quick-to-turn-upfield, load to bring down once the ball is in his hands—if a bit clumsy.

Down-Blocking

Vannett’s main positive was blocking in general, an area he has clearly improved upon—particularly in-line. On down-blocks, which were admittedly “you should win this” assignments given the entire line was down-blocking, he moved people—defensive ends, linebackers, the lot—at crucial moments to spring his back free on the cutback.

Sealing the edge

Vannett was similarly effective sealing the edge, against big EDGE players. From sprinting outside on a toss or standing in there on a counter, Vannett made integral blocks against far larger opponents.

Blocking Aiming Points

One area that Vannett can improver in regards to his blocking is aiming points, which when running outside from an in-line alignment and taking out the corner, he whiffed completely. This likely stems from a rush of overexcitement (more on this later). He was far more comfortable lead-blocking on the ‘keep side’ of the zone read with superb footwork and patience to get the optimal angle.

Pass Protection

Similarly to his run blocking, Vannett’s pass pro is full of want and effort. His eagerness saw him handle Chandler Jones, blocking him round the corner, but it also saw him lunge into Markus Golden. In the Golden example he does have Germain Ifedi behind him too, but the over-enthusiasm should be noted given his earlier whiff.

A huge Opportunity

If Vannett can maintain his blocking standards, the immense positive of Will Dissly, then the fall-off should be less noticeable. Vannett is very willing to get down and dirty in the run and pass game. However, his underwhelming route running and connection with Wilson is something that may require an adjustment to the offense.

It’s a weak rapport that contrasts greatly with Dissly’s relationship with Wilson and his understanding of coverage that was so impressive considering his newness to the professional game. There is no point in Vannett being the safety valve if he can’t run a refined route and if Wilson can’t be on the same page as him.

With the gameplan already installed against the Cardinals, this was difficult to change. But, moving forward, the Seahawks should look to rectify this. Furthermore, Vannett must eliminate his bad plays and gain a higher level of consistency.

Vannett is nearing a contract year and has done very little in Seahawks blue. Writing that this is a huge opportunity for the former Ohio State Buckeye is an understatement. Patellar tendon tears are really tough to recover from, with Jimmy Graham’s remarkable comeback warping expectations. If Vannett can sharpen his connection with Wilson and polish his routes, he just might seize this chance. One thing’s certain: Seattle needs him to.