RENTON — As famed as Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is for his film study and diligent preparation, it’s unlikely anybody on the roster focuses more intently on his duties than running back Derrick Coleman.
The play call, the snap count, his assignments, everybody else’s assignments — Coleman, 22, thinks extra study can give him an edge.
And those who have any preconceptions about the effects of certain limitations on athletic success are advised to keep an eye on Seattle’s No. 40.
Coleman has dealt with a genetic hearing impairment since he was 3. He has partial hearing loss and uses hearing aids in each ear, but opts to read lips to recognize what people are saying.
If the hearing impairment has any effect on Coleman, it seems to be mostly positive — as a motivator. While fighting for a roster spot with the Seahawks, he advanced his cause by catching a 6-yard touchdown pass in the exhibition opener against the San Diego Chargers.
Beyond that, he’s earning fans among the coaching staff and teammates for his toughness and professionalism.
“Maybe (the impairment) is what motivates him,” said Sherman Smith, who coaches running backs for the Seahawks. “But I’ll tell you this, I love the way he approaches his business. He’s very serious about wanting to be a good player, and he comes to work every day trying to get better.”
Hearing loss hasn’t affected Coleman’s speech. He responds with no hesitation to those whose questions are in his field of vision.
Coleman’s coaches and colleagues recognize him for his skills and not his hearing loss. But his early years were different. Kids, of course, can be cruel.
“It was tough for a while,” Coleman said after practice this week. “But my mom and dad always told me not to worry about those who make fun of you because they’re the ones who are trying to pull you down. The people who want to be your friend and help you, those are the ones to have in your life.”
A native of West Los Angeles, Coleman was a standout at UCLA for coach Rick Neuheisel, adding to his value as a running back by being the team’s top special teams player.
On his pro-day workout, he ran a 40-yard dash in
4.5 seconds, unusually swift for a 230-pound bruiser. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2012 but was released during training camp. The Seahawks added him to their practice squad in December.
The practical obstacles are overcome, mostly, by Coleman being near the quarterbacks in the huddle, and the quarterbacks being certain he can see them when they call the play.
As for the snap count, Coleman moves when he sees the ball snapped. He says he had only one false-start call his entire college career. Audibles that change the play at the line of scrimmage could be a problem, but Coleman reduces his vulnerability to mistakes by being able to read the situation just as the quarterback does.
“If I study it well enough, I should know what the audibles are going to be,” he said. “If this thing happens, then we change it to this play. The better I know my position, the better I can play. Coach Sherm always focuses on the details and doing the little things right. I always try to get a little edge wherever I can, and he pushes it to another level.”
Coach Pete Carroll cited Coleman as “one of the most dependable special teams guys … he’s fantastic technique-wise and gives us the assurance we know he can play for us as a core special teams guy.”
Veteran fullback Mike Robinson emphasizes that Coleman is “a great athlete.”
“He’s awesome, and amazes me every day,” Robinson said. “The stuff he does is really amazing; I couldn’t imagine playing the game without being able to hear. But he does a great job of communicating. And he’s got a great attitude … very positive, very upbeat, always willing to learn.”
Two deaf players have earned roster spots in the NFL: Bonnie Sloan (St. Louis Cardinals, 1973) and Kenny Walker (Denver Broncos, 1991-92).
“But none of them played offense,” Coleman pointed out.
When he’s back in Los Angeles, Coleman likes to talk to youths with hearing impairment.
“I tell them that nobody’s perfect; some people wear glasses, some need hearing aids,” he said. “That shouldn’t stop you from doing what you want to do. I come out here, and nothing else should matter but me, my teammates and football.
“And it’s up to you to get the job done; there are no excuses.”