RENTON, Wash. – There’s a phrase Seahawks coaches regularly use once they have determined that a young player has shown the ability to perform when the lights are the brightest.
“The game,” they’ll say, “isn’t too big for him.”
It’s a quality that coaches look for in younger players. How will they react when they first get on the big stage?
It’s a question Seattle rookie middle linebacker Brock Coyle has answered well with every step up the NFL ladder the past few months.
“He’s passing each test,” linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. said recently of Coyle, who played at Montana and signed with Seattle last May. He appears on the verge of being the team’s latest undrafted free-agent success story.
The most recent exam came Thursday in Denver, when the 6-foot-1, 243-pound Coyle started at middle linebacker against the Broncos.
Each of the other 10 starters played in the 43-8 Super Bowl win over the Broncos, and eight were regular starters for Seattle a year ago.
But Coyle, playing for the injured Bobby Wagner, out another week or two with a hamstring issue, hardly looked out of place.
On the third play of the game, he closed quickly to hold Denver running back Ronnie Hillman to a 1-yard gain, the first of his five tackles in 21 snaps. As the play ended, safety Earl Thomas hurried over to offer a handshake.
In the second quarter, Coyle made what might have been the hit of the game for the Seahawks, initially dropping back in coverage then hurrying over into the flat to flatten Denver running back C.J. Anderson, who left the game with a concussion.
“It’s just football,” Coyle said. “It was just fun to play some live football.”
Norton said before the game that what he wanted to see from Coyle was whether he could “do it all under the lights, with our uniform and our logo working. Can you put it all together in a team format?”
Maybe Norton needn’t have worried how Coyle would respond on the big stage, even if he played his college games in a home stadium a third the size of those in the NFL.
While growing up in Bozeman, Coyle first gained renown for his success as a snow-ski racer. He competed regularly until, at age 16, he decided to devote himself to football, which he had determined was his true passion.
Coyle said he thinks all those years of ski racing helped prepare him for Thursday.
“In skiing, you have just one shot, one opportunity to kind of put it all together,” he said. “So that really helped me from a mental standpoint of putting all your preparation and all your training into one moment, one performance.”
That flair for rising to the occasion was evident last March at Montana’s Pro Day when he wowed the scouts who braved a 37-degree day with a 4.60 40-yard dash and a 37-inch vertical jump.
Still, Coyle went unselected in the draft, and afterward said he had offers from a dozen teams.
He decided to sign with Seattle because “I just felt comfortable here.”
While the Seahawks return the bulk of a defensive roster last seen winning the Super Bowl, their depth at linebacker is a little uncertain.
Wagner’s listed backup a year ago was Heath Farwell, whose greatest value last season was as special-teams captain. (When Wagner missed two games, K.J. Wright moved over to start in the middle.) Farwell will turn 33 in December and Coyle might offer a younger, cheaper alternative. “It’s only going to matter when they do that final (cut to) 53,” Coyle said. “But it’s been a great experience for me so far.”