Six months ago, Brock Coyle was like the rest of us: watching the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Being a college linebacker, he specifically marveled at Seattle’s defense dismantling Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in its 43-8 win.
Thursday night in Denver, Coyle will be too busy to marvel. He will be calling the signals to Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Brandon Mebane and that Seahawks’ defense in the team’s exhibition opener. The rookie free agent out of Football Championship Subdivision Montana will be the starting middle linebacker for the defending Super Bowl champions. He will be countering the calls of Manning in his first professional game.
Now that’s coming a long way in half a year.
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Coyle? He can’t even describe how far the journey has taken him.
“No, I can’t. It’s surreal. It’s awesome,” he said before the Seahawks departed their training-camp headquarters at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Wednesday afternoon for Denver. “But I can’t think about that. I’ve got to stay focused when I’m out there.
“It’s going to be awesome. It’s a dream come true. Very excited to seize the moment on Thursday. I am anticipating playing a great game. Playing my first NFL game, it’s going to be awesome. Really, I can’t wait.”
Coach Pete Carroll made a point after Wednesday’s less-than-an-hour walkthrough practice without pads and helmets that this is the game for young players such as Coyle to seize as a prime opportunity. It’s time for them to act on their dreams in a push to make it onto the roster of the NFL champions.
Coyle’s chance is more prime than that of almost any other Seahawks kid. He is starting with veteran Bobby Wagner still out with a hamstring injury. And Carroll said last weekend that Wagner is going to take “a little while longer” to get back on the field.
So one of the two rookie starters Seattle lists on its unofficial depth chart for Thursday’s game is the former captain of the Montana Grizzlies in the Big Sky Conference; a ski racer out of his local Big Sky resort until he focused on football at age 16. The other is second-round draft choice Justin Britt, at right tackle.
“We’ve historically really leaned on our young guys (in the exhibition season), and they are going to play a lot in this game,” Carroll said. “The starters will be out there for a while, but the bulk of the game will be played by young guys.
“It is that time of the year, for opportunity. It is what is going on right now. Guys have dreamed their whole lives away to be in the NFL. And now here it is.”
So, no, don’t tell the Coyle family this is just an exhibition game. His mother, Tina, works in sales in his hometown of Bozeman, Montana — yes, Coyle grew up next to Montana State University but went to arch-rival Montana instead, to have a college experience away from home. Mom is coming south to Denver with relatives for Thursday’s game. His father Chris, separated and living in Connecticut, is flying in to see his son start for the Super Bowl champs. Coyle will also have a pack of college friends from the Denver area in the stands. They won’t be wearing Broncos orange.
“Yeah, absolutely, this is definitely a great opportunity for me, playing in my first NFL game,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the first team or the third team or the fourth team. A huge opportunity. Blessed and very excited.”
But that’s mind-blowing thing, at least to his pals: His chance is coming with the starters. Coyle said his friends keep texting him during camp, marveling at him being a Seahawks starter three months out of being with the Griz, “but I can’t think about that. I’m just focused right now.”
It’s not as if Coyle has been merely keeping Wagner’s middle-linebacker spot warm in his absence, either. The 6-foot-1, 243-pound Coyle has so far shown more versatility against the run and the pass than 10th-year veteran Heath Farwell. Coyle has impressed coaches with his fiendish preparation that has led to his near-mastery of the playbook, and to his knack for being in the right place at all times in the center of the defense.
Coyle’s reasoning: “The more you study, the more you know, the faster you play.”
He said he constantly needs to work on “the little things you can never be good enough at,” such as his footwork, drops into pass coverage, and fitting properly behind blocks into opposing running lanes. That rapid learning started soon after the Seahawks called him late on the final draft day in early May. General manager John Schneider, whom Coyle had met on a pre-draft visit to team headquarters, told him Seattle would be offering a free-agent contact as soon as the draft ended.
Coyle eagerly chose the Seahawks over offers from about a dozen other NFL teams.
“He’s done a fantastic job,” Carroll said. “Here he is, first camp as a rookie, and he’s running the first-team defense out there. Everybody really likes him. He’s doing a good job on special teams. He’s really bright. It’s not too big for him to handle the calls and all that.
“We won’t really know until we get to playing, and see how he’s running and hitting and making his plays. But he’s done a great job.”