Michael Dickson is the new, next best thing.
Jon Ryan is what he’s always been.
Ryan is the Seahawks’ longest-tenured player. He’s been their punter for the last 10 seasons. He earned a Super Bowl ring with Seattle, four years ago. He punted and held for placekicks when Jim Mora was Seattle’s coach. Heck, even when Mike Holmgren was its coach.
Ryan’s tenure, his job, his future, are in serious jeopardy.
It has been so since the Seahawks not only selected Dickson, the University of Texas’ hotshot punter from Australia, in the fifth round of April’s draft but traded up to get him. In doing so Seattle made Dickson the only punter or kicker coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have drafted in their nine offseasons running the team.
Thursday, Dickson boomed 59- and 55-yard punts as high as CenturyLink Field is tall in his first pro game. That deftly pinned Colts returners to the sideline in Seattle’s preseason opener. Then late in the fourth quarter with the Seahawks down 19-17 Dickson further used his 10 years of experience as an Australia Rules Football player in that country by doing something rare in the NFL: he drop-kicked an onside kickoff. His pooch kick skipped off the turf and plopped over the front line of the Colts’ kick-return team. Indianapolis retained possession. But the trick provided more evidence Dickson is no ordinary punter, that he has dynamic skills kicking a football—and that the Seahawks intend to fully utilize those and him this season.
One might think Ryan is hunkered down for this competition throughout training camp. That he isn’t talking to or even acknowledging this upstart kid trying to steal his job.
One might not know Jon Ryan.
This month, perhaps above all others, is showing why the Seahawks and their fans love him.
“He has taken to the competition by showing what a classy guy he is. He’s helping Mike wherever he can,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He talks situations with him. He works to support him. His holding, all of that stuff—Mike didn’t have a lot of experience with that—he’s been a consummate pro.
“He knows he’s in a big battle. And they pretty well matched it up the first time out. So we’ll see how it goes.”
Dickson’s only been living in the United States for three years, since Texas’ coaching staff recruited him off a YouTube video in Australia of him kicking this weirdly-shaped, brown ball foreign to Aussies.
Ryan is proving to be perhaps the most genuine, helpful, classy American Dickson’s met yet.
Except of course that Ryan is Canadian. He’s from Saskatchewan, and played for his native University of Regina.
“Definitely. He’s been great this whole process,” Dickson said Sunday after he, not Ryan, was the holder for Sebastian Janikowski’s placekicks in the 12th practice of training camp. “You know, I look up to Jon, a lot.
“He’s a punting legend, in my eyes. If I had a career half as good as his I’d be so, so happy.”
Dickson has never got even a sideways turn of the head from Ryan, let alone the word “no.”
“If I ever ask him any questions he’s always down to help to the best he can,” Dickson said. “He’s been great. He’s a mentor to me. He’s been a great competitor throughout this whole experience. Just the whole competition has pushed me to try even harder, and it’s just been a great experience so far.”
Dickson said Ryan’s reaction to him arriving to try to take his job was “a bit of a relief.”
“I’ve just always had so much respect for him,” Dickson said. “Either way—if he didn’t want to talk to me I’d understand and respect it, and if he did, I’d respect it, as well. I just respect him, a lot. He’s just been a great competitor.”
It would seem to be a weird dynamic for Ryan to being Dickson’s mentor while Dickson is trying to take his job, no?
“It can be,” Ryan said, “if you let it be.
“It’s obviously a unique situation. Obviously, only one punter is going to make the team. It’s not like receiver or any other position, you know. You can draft a wide receiver, and Doug Baldwin’s not going anywhere.
“So it’s interesting like that, a little bit different. But at the same time, we make it work.”
HE makes it work. He’s been reaching out to help Dickson with every nuance of punting in the NFL, and with holding for placekicks. That’s the other job Ryan’s had with Seattle for the last decade that he’s in danger of losing.
“It’s just who I am. I’m not going to be stand-offish towards him or have any ill will towards him,” Ryan said. “He’s out here working his butt off just like I am, trying to win this job. So he’s in the exact same place that I am.”
Ryan says Dickson’s “obviously got a big leg. He’s brought over a lot of unique and interesting kicks from Australia that are fun to watch. I’m a little more old school, I guess you’d say, from doing this for 15 years. So, yeah, a little bit different.”
But Ryan isn’t simply yielding his job and his time in Seattle out of the kindness of his heart. No way. He’s competing. Even from the sidelines.
Ryan absolutely noticed Thursday against Indianapolis when Dickson, not he, was the holder on Janikowski’s point-after-touchdown kick. That was following the starting offense’s score on its first and only drive of the game.
“I was just saying to ‘Sea Bass,’ when he went out there for a PAT, ‘He’s the first guy to go out there and hold for a PAT that wasn’t me in 11 years,’” Ryan said.
“It feels a little weird. At the same time that’s just what the situation is right now.”
Ryan is 36 years old. Dickson is 22. The Seahawks can save $2.6 million against its 2018 salary cap by releasing Ryan, who has this year and next remaining on his contract. Dickson’s salary this season is $480,000.
To everyone else, the writing is on the wall for Ryan.
Whatever. Ryan’s not reading it.
What was his reaction when the Seahawks traded to Denver their fifth-round pick plus a choice in round seven to move up seven places to draft Dickson?
“Bring it on.”
“Absolutely,” Ryan said Sunday. “I told Pete and John right away, ‘If you keep me here and let me compete, I’m going to compete my ass off.’
“And I told John, ‘One way or the other I’m going to make you look stupid.’
“That wasn’t a disrespectful thing. It was just a competitive thing. And I think he understood that.”
The twist of this competition is the Seahawks could perhaps have done Ryan better by avoiding it. Carroll acknowledged the team considered releasing Ryan soon after it drafted Dickson. Not because the Seahawks think Ryan is not worthy of this competition, but out of deference and respect to his accomplishments and service.
Releasing Ryan this offseason would have given him months to find another job with one of the league’s 31 other teams. Playing this competition out through Seattle’s four preseason games that end Aug. 30 gives Ryan only a few days to find a new job if Dickson wins, as signs are he will. The roster cuts from 90 players to the regular-season limit are Sept. 1. That’s eight days before the regular season begins for Seattle and most of the league.
“Those are considerations. We didn’t talk to Jon about that as much,” Carroll said. “Those are always considerations...particularly with guys who have been with you.”
Ryan said “maybe a part of me” wishes the Seahawks had cut him months ago, when they drafted Dickson, to give him a better chance to find a job elsewhere.
“But the bigger part of me wanted to compete,” he said.
“We’ll just see what happens. That part of it is out of my control. We’ll see what they decide.
“I’m at ease with the fact that I can only control what I can control. I’m out here working, trying to do my best, and whatever they decide is what they decide. I have no control over what they decide.”