RENTON – In a mock game-on-the-line situation at Seahawks practice Sunday, Brandon Coutu came on with the field goal unit and responded by booting a 53-yarder.
You may now take a moment to check the date at the top of this page.
Yes, it’s 2011, not 2008 or 2009. And the kicker’s name, again, was Brandon Coutu, which might be a little fuzzy in the memory of casual fans.
Although Coutu is now in his third training camp with the Sea-hawks, he has not kicked in a regular-season game. He has been out of the league for a year.
Two differences stand between this camp and the others in which Coutu participated: He’s fully healthy after dealing with a hip problem that required surgery, and Olindo Mare is no longer on the team.
“I was recovering from an injury when I left here (’09),” Coutu said Sunday. “I dealt with it, rehabbed, and have been working to be ready for an opportunity.”
Brief history: Coutu, in possession of an impressive college resume at Georgia, was drafted in the seventh round in 2008. The Seahawks also signed the veteran Mare, who had struggled with a groin injury with New Orleans the previous season.
Coutu made all seven of his exhibition field-goal attempts that summer, while Mare proved he was back to health and was also powerful with kickoffs.
Since roster spots on NFL teams are precious, it’s rare for teams to keep two placekickers. The situation appeared to make Coutu a pawn in a power play between general manager Tim Ruskell and coach Mike Holmgren.
Having made him a draft choice, Ruskell had equity in Coutu. But Holmgren liked the veteran.
Ruskell asserted that other teams wanted Coutu and the only way he could protect him for the future was to keep him on the roster. All the while, Holmgren saw his team crushed by injuries and in need of manpower at other positions on its way to a 4-12 season.
But both Mare and Coutu were kept on the roster. Coutu remained employed but inactive. Mare responded with a season of 24-of-27 accuracy and eventually set a franchise record by making 30 in a row into the next season.
“I have no idea,” Coutu answered to the question: What the heck was going on? “I just tried to work hard every day and be prepared to play. I have no idea about any of that; I just came to work every day and did what they wanted me to.”
By ’09, that was getting harder because of a “wear and tear” hip problem that had been bothering him.
“I just had to have some stuff cleaned out of my hip and that let me move around better,” Coutu said. “I feel a lot better now, much better than I did before.”
He rehabbed, he healed, and then he was once again up and kicking. He was not ready to give up on the NFL.
“I worked with some people and I did a lot of kicking at a local high school to stay in shape,” he said. “My goal was to definitely get back here and get another shot in the NFL.”
Coutu said he’d never been away from competition for so long, so the year away was difficult, and he was fully aware of the scarcity of kicking jobs. “I know how the NFL works, there’s not many open positions, so you have to be patient.”
The NFL lockout further complicated his comeback chances, so he signed with Las Vegas of the UFL. But when free agency opened, the Seahawks called him again. Now he’s in a duel with former Steelers kicker Jeff Reed.
Coutu’s attention might be a bit divided this week while his fiancee, Taylor Leon, competes in the Safeway Classic in Portland. A two-time All-America golfer at Georgia, Leon is 107th on the LPGA Tour money list.
Coutu, a 6-handicap player himself, said they’re getting married in February.
He would like to spend the intervening time not only employed by an NFL team, but also in action.
“I just had to keep believing in myself,” he said. “I kept working so I’d be ready if another chance came up and all the hard work could pay off.”
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 email@example.com