Brock Coyle is making his first NFL start this weekend for more than himself.
He’s the starting middle linebacker on the Super Bowl champions for more than just injured regular Bobby Wagner’s fill-in. He’s representing more than undrafted rookie free agents everywhere or even his family, some of which will be at CenturyLink Field Sunday to see him play for Seattle (4-3) against the Oakland Raiders (0-7).
Coyle is playing for Glasgow and Glendive. For Billings, Butte and his hometown of Bozeman. For the Grizzlies of Missoula — and the folks who watch real grizzly bears roam Glacier National Park.
He’s playing for the entire state of Montana.
“Honestly, that state, everyone knows everyone. I’ve had tons of support. I take pride in representing that state,” Coyle, a former ski-racing star at Big Sky Resort southwest of Billings, said Thursday. “I love everyone back there that has showed me support and been a part of my life in Montana.”
That life is taking off this week.
A few months ago he was the captain of the Montana Grizzlies of the Big Sky Conference in the Football Championship Subdivision. This week, the 24-year-old that Seahawks linebackers coach and two-time Super Bowl-winning linebacker Ken Norton called “the surprise of the summer” is readying to make his first career start.
“I told him (Thursday morning) when we got here at about six o’clock, ‘Man, you went from starting at Montana to starting in the NFL! It’s crazy, huh?’” said Bruce Irvin, the third-year veteran who will be starting next to Coyle at outside linebacker Sunday.
“He said, ‘Bro, I just can’t let Ken Norton down.’
“I told him, ‘You’ll be all right. Just go out and have fun. Play like you are in the yard,’” Irvin said.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in Brock. I know he’s going to hold it down.”
Norton said the job for Sunday against Oakland is Coyle’s to lose. Wagner remains in a walking boot because of a turf-toe injury that has sidelined him for two games. Outside linebacker Malcolm Smith hasn’t practiced at all this week because of a groin injury. With Smith hurting, the Seahawks need K.J. Wright — who has started the last two games for Wagner — back outside.
And they need Coyle to be what he’s been for them all along these last five months.
It’s not like the Seahawks don’t know what they are getting with Coyle even if he’s taken the longest-shot road to his starting job. Mostly on special teams through the season’s first seven games, Coyle wowed Norton, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, coach Pete Carroll and his Seahawks teammates with how he ran the defense during training camp and the first two exhibition games in August while Wagner was out with a hamstring injury.
“I think if I didn’t have that experience, I wouldn’t be in the position I am now,” Coyle said before practice Thursday.
Maybe this is why the Seahawks called Coyle in May even before the draft ended, telling him they wanted to sign him as an undrafted free agent.
The only things that were longer than Coyle’s odds to make the roster at that point were his desire and his sense of opportunity.
“The things that we saw from him right off the back was, one, he is a good tackler,” Quinn said. “I think when we came in here we said, ‘OK, what’s his football smarts like?’
“He was a gym-rat guy. He wanted more, more. Staying extra. Doing the notes. Hanging around with the guys. He kept making more plays, more plays. As it got going, you could see his intent of how he was going for it.”
Once the games got real Sept. 4 against Green Bay, when he took the field for what he called one of his two “pinch-me” moments so far as a Seahawk, Coyle further impressed the Seahawks with his willingness and motivation on every kicking game there is.
Kickoffs. Kickoff returns. Punt teams. If Steven Hauschka wanted a day off from field goals, Coyle probably would kick those, too.
“A lot of the guys don’t have big roles on special teams in college a lot of times if they’ve been playing all the time on offense and defense,” Quinn said. “That was another area. You’d walk past the special teams coach and he’d been in there asking questions.
“One of the things I respect most about him is just the work ethic Brock brings to us.”
Coyle doesn’t know any other way. It must be something in the glacier-fed water there in Montana.
No wonder he and his state love each other.
Oh, that other “pinch-me” moment? Lining up opposite Peyton Manning and trying to outwit him in Denver during Seattle’s first exhibition game he started on Aug. 7.
“In a timeout, it was pretty cool. It was an awesome experience,” he said of playing against Manning.
“My expectation was to come in and make this team. That’s the reason why I signed with them,” he said. “I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think I had the opportunity — a good opportunity — to make this team.
“I’m just very happy that I made that decision, because it’s been a great one.”