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Garry Gilliam, Brock Coyle took advantage of their opportunities

Posted Aug 31, 2014

Making the Super Bowl champions’ roster as a draft choice is one thing, but doing it as an undrafted rookie is something else. Just ask Garry Gilliam and Brock Coyle, who worked their way onto the Seahawks’ 53-man roster.


Garry Gilliam spent a long Saturday waiting for a call that never came.

“It was weird, because they call and let you know if you’re not on the team. But they don’t call you to let you know you’re on the team,” the rookie free agent tackle said.

FROM UNDRAFTED TO UNDAUNTED

Linebacker Brock Coyle and tackle Garry Gilliam are the latest rookie free agents to make the Seahawks’ 53-man roster. Here’s a look at the illustrious group they have joined:

Dave Krieg (1980) – He made the team only because backup QB Steve Myer sustained a career-ending neck injury during the annual training-camp scrimmage. But Krieg not only played 12 seasons for the Seahawks, he was the franchise’s all-time leader in passing yards (26,132), TD passes (195) and victories (70) when he left after the 1991 season. He was inducted into the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor in 2004.

Joe Nash (1982) – No one in franchise history has played more seasons (15) or in more games (218) than Nash, the nose tackle in the Seahawks’ DieHards line from 1983-89 and a defensive tackle in the four-man line from 1990-95. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in 1984 and holds the club record for blocked kicks (10).

Eugene Robinson (1985) – He arrived as a cornerback, but was moved to safety and became a two-time Pro Bowl selection (1992-93). Robinson is the Seahawks’ all-time leading tackler (984) and ranks second in interceptions (42).

Rufus Porter (1988) – The 108th player signed in 1988, Porter went to the Pro Bowl twice as the AFC special teams player (1988-89) and then started at outside linebacker for five seasons (1990-94) and collected 37.5 sacks as a rush-end in the nickel defense. He was the only player voted to two spots on the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team – outside linebacker and the special teams player.

Mack Strong (1993) – After spending his rookie season on the practice squad, Strong was the lead-blocking fullback for a trio of 1,000-yard rushers – Chris Warren, Ricky Watters and Shaun Alexander – while playing in 201 games. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2005 and 2006 and selected All-Pro in ’05.  

Doug Baldwin (2011) – Signed at the conclusion of the 136-day lockout that erased the offseason in 2011, Baldwin led the team in receptions (51) and receiving yards (788) as a rookie – the first undrafted rookie to do that since Bill Groman of the Houston Oilers in 1960. Baldwin caught 50 passes and had a career-high five TD catches during the Seahawks’ run to the Super Bowl last season.

Jermaine Kearse (2012) – After playing in only seven games as a rookie, Kearse averaged 15.7 yards on 22 receptions last season and then added seven catches for a 19.1-yard average in the playoffs.

So Gilliam headed to Virginia Mason Athletic Center for a scheduled 2 p.m. team meeting.

“When I found out officially it was in the team meeting,” Gilliam said after Sunday’s practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center – his first as a member of the 53-man roster.

And Gilliam, a 6-foot-5, 306-pound former tight end from Penn State, wasn’t alone. Middle linebacker Brock Coyle, a rookie free agent from Montana, also is a member of the 53-man roster.

“It kind of hit me when I was in the team meeting room,” Coyle said. “You start with 90 guys and that room just becomes a little more empty every cut. So when you’re sitting in there, and you’re one of the 53, it’s a moment for sure.

“I was happy. I was proud. But then it’s on to the next thing: What’s next?”

The Seahawks always have been good to rookie free agents, and the rookie free agents in turn have been good to the Seahawks. From Dave Krieg, to Joe Nash, to Eugene Robinson, to Rufus Porter, to Mack Strong – it’s an impressive group that also includes Paul Moyer, Jon Kitna, J.P. Darche and, on the current roster, Doug Baldwin, Jeron Johnson, Jermaine Kearse, Alvin Bailey, Mike Morgan and DeShawn Shead.

It just goes to show that, even before coach Pete Carroll arrived in 2010, if you can play the Seahawks will find a roster spot for you.

Gilliam and Coyle admitted that they allowed themselves brief yes-moments, before refocusing on the task at hand. Because the last thing any rookie free agent can do is think that he’s made it just because he survived the cut to 53.

“I think it was (Houston Texans defensive end) J.J. Watt that said it, ‘Once you say you’ve made it in this league, that’s your first ticket out,’ ” Coyle said. “Especially for me, being an undrafted rookie and making this team, it’s been hard work to get me here and I’m going to continue to work hard.”  

Offered Gilliam, “Obviously you’re excited. It’s a good feeling to realize you’re on the team. Now it’s time to really get down to work and get to the nitty-gritty.”

But then that’s how Gilliam and Coyle have gone about their business since they were signed on the final day of the NFL Draft. And each not only got an opportunity because of any injury to a starter, each took advantage of it.

For Gilliam, it started in the rookie minicamp in May when he was working at left tackle with the No. 1s.

“During rookie minicamp, I felt horrible,” he said with a laugh. “My technique was horrible. This was horrible. That was horrible.”

But the coaches – and especially line coach Tom Cable – saw enough that Gilliam even got reps with the No. 1 line when the veterans showed up for OTA practices because Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung was sidelined while recovering from offseason foot surgery.

“I think coach Cable realized my athleticism and potential,” Gilliam said. “Each day I got a little extra work through OTAs and minicamp, just working on little things – whether it’s hands, feet, timing, patience; just something every day. And then I started putting everything together.”

Coyle stepped into the middle of the best defense in the NFL the first week of training camp when two-time leading tackler Bobby Wagner went out with a hamstring injury. By the time the preseason ended on Thursday night, Coyle was the Seahawks’ leading tackler. And the way he collected his 22 tackles was a testament to how consistent he has been all summer – five in the opener against the Broncos in Denver; seven in the home opener against the San Diego Chargers; four the following week against the Chicago Bears; and a team-high six in the finale against the Raiders in Oakland.

“Looking back, when you’re presented an opportunity, it’s how you take advantage of it,” Coyle said. “I could have been presented that opportunity and not done well and kind of buckled under the pressure.”

But Wagner was not about to let that happen, as he coached Coyle up between series in games and between drills in practice. Neither was K.J. Wright, the weak-side linebacker who helped Coyle while they were on the field. And neither was Ken Norton, Jr., the former Pro Bowl linebacker who coaches the position for the Seahawks.

“I really took it upon myself to really step up to the plate,” Coyle said. “With the help of great vets like K.J. and Bobby, they really helped me along the way. They were just so supportive, and the same with coach Norton. I couldn’t ask for a better coach to help my development.”

One of the best parts of his call-less Saturday for the Bozeman-born-and-raised Coyle was the support he got from his family, friends and entire state when it became apparent that he had made the cut.

“Having them reach out to me, it really meant a lot,” Coyle said. “Especially being from Montana, it’s a state where everyone kind of knows everyone. So representing that state, I take some pride in that. I love that state.”

Gilliam’s favorite moment, after not getting the call? “Probably the coolest thing was somebody said, ‘Congratulations. It’s not easy making it to the Super Bowl champs’ team as an undrafted free agent,’ ” he said. “When I stopped and thought about that, I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty cool.’”