Lockout labor of love for Leon Washington

The lengthy NFL lockout was fine with Seahawks back Leon Washington.

He had labor issues of his own to deal with.

In June, his wife gave birth to their third son, Nolen. The spelling seems a little unconventional until you are reminded that Washington was a Florida State Semi-nole.

“Personally, it was great,” Washington said of the lockout after Monday morning’s practice. “I have three little boys now – 5, 2 and 6 weeks. This is my sixth year in the league and every other year there have been OTAs (organized team activities) and minicamps, so this was a nice chance to spend time with the wife and family.”

Washington has been one of the eye-catching players early in training camp – shifty in tight quarters, with breakaway speed once he slips past the line.

The only surprise there is that he looks even quicker than last season, when he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, and almost had a punt return score, too, but he was somewhat embarrassingly tripped up by the punter at the 1-yard line.

His speed, he says, is enhanced by having lost a few pounds (pregnancy weight, maybe?), and by the natural confidence of now being another year removed from the gruesome compound leg fracture that ended his ’09 season with the New York Jets.

He was cautious last year at this time, and the staff had no idea what to expect in the way of a comeback.

Everyone discovered pretty quickly when he returned kickoffs 101 and 99 yards in the Sept. 26 game against San Diego.

But Washington still had doubts. How could he not?

“It was only natural for it to be on my mind,” he said. “If somebody had been through that and told you they didn’t think about it, they wouldn’t be telling you the truth. Really, it wasn’t until about halfway through the season that I really felt, OK, I’m back and rolling.”

The coaches were conservative in their use of Washington, too. He got only 27 carries and nine receptions. But the coaches have talked to him about getting more opportunities in the offense this season. They should, just to get their money’s worth, having signed him to a four-year contract extension in the offseason.

“It makes this (camp) a lot different,” he said. “I know my surroundings, signed a deal to be here four more years, and I’ve had a full year to get my body right. My leg is a lot stronger and I’m confident in it.”

And he expressed confidence in the reconstituted offensive line, which features only one player with significant playing time in the NFL.

“You might say, ‘Who’s this guy?’ now, but you look at them and you sure can’t miss them,” he said. “Those guys are huge up there. They’re all about 6-6 or 6-7 and over 300 pounds. I’m loving it. A 5-8 guy … they won’t be able to see me and Justin (Forsett) and Marshawn (Lynch).”

On a team that faces a sudden leadership void, Washington could be even more valuable. He was a special teams captain last year for good reason.