The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Seahawks coaches, staff, or personnel.
Every player’s path to becoming a professional takes a different course. Some get it right away and are able to play and contribute immediately. For others, it takes a season or two until they come to grips with the speed and details of the game.
For me, it took a year to get comfortable enough so I could just turn it loose and be a football player.
For two rookies on the Seahawks roster, their individual challenges are different, but like most young players the Seahawks have brought into camp, attainable.
For Coyle it’s about assignments. Every night he studies and is by his own account “all business” - Coyle foregoes any form of relaxation or down time until he’s prepared for the next day.
“I study every night until I feel comfortable enough about the next day and know all of my assignments,” said Coyle.
It’s paid off for him so far. He’s shown enough confidence in his duties at linebacker to play free on the field. He trusts his instincts and pulls the trigger. It’s all about preparation for Coyle.
“The more you prepare the more confident you become on the field,” said Coyle. “I study formations, pre-snap keys and try to know my responsibility in every defense and in every situation.”
Now maybe I’m a little biased, but I like this young linebacker. I’ve been known to refer to linebackers as the smartest, toughest, and best looking players on the field. Okay, so maybe that best-looking part is a stretch (for me anyway)! But when talking with Coyle, you can see that he has the look of a prototypical linebacker. He’s quiet and serious with a pleasant demeanor. But one look in his eyes reveals that underneath all of that, he just wants to hit someone.
For Kevin Norwood, it’s about the details.
“There are lots of little things that you didn’t think about as much in college,” he said.
“It may not seem like much but when you’re used to using those targets, it’s an adjustment,” Norwood said. “Every route you run needs to look exactly the same when you come off the ball. If you tip off your route in the slightest, the defenders at this level will use that to their advantage.”
Those things are a big change for most players coming out of college. Minute technical details like foot placement and adjusting to complex formations are things most college football players don’t even think about. You just go play!
I experienced similar growing pains when I came into the league. The first workout I had with a pro linebacker coach brought those things home for me. He put me into a pass drop and wanted to see me drive out of my drop and towards the ball. I executed it perfectly in my mind, but he told me I took too many steps. I was taking 2 or 3 steps to drive out of my break and he wanted me to do it in one step. That was something I had never even considered. I was also too high, had too narrow of a base (my feet were too close together) and didn’t use my hands to take on blocks. The problem with all of that coaching is that you start to get overwhelmed by the details. Once you start thinking about all of those things, you become less instinctive and your play suffers.
But once those details become second nature, you can turn it loose.
Willson admits that those details were things he didn’t think of before.
“In the running game, coaches were talking about aiming for the outside of a guy’s numbers instead of his shoulder,” Willson said. “That’s like a six inch difference! But now I have those things down and understand what all of that means.”
Willson feels more comfortable off the field too and that makes a big difference.
“Just knowing how to get around town, finding a place to live, paying bills—those things are overwhelming when you’re a rookie,” he said.
It’s true. In college you live in the dorm where everything is taken care of. You know your way around and there’s less to think about.
The challenge for rookies like Norwood and Coyle will be to conquer the little details so they can turn it loose and just go play like Willson. Don’t be surprised if both of these kids are on the regular season roster – watching them in practice you can see that their instincts are beginning to take over.