Rarely has a violent collision felt so good.
When Seahawks punter Jon Ryan boomed a punt in last week's preseason game in Kansas City, linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis was one of the first Seattle players down the field. Pierre-Louis was greeted by two Chiefs blockers, but he plowed into them with enough force that he was still able to knock punt returner Frankie Hammond off his feet.
The play wasn't just Pierre-Louis' first tackle of the preseason, it was his first full-speed hit since he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in mid-November of his rookie season. A fourth-round pick out of Boston College in 2014, Pierre-Louis quickly emerged as an important special teams player and also as a backup linebacker with a lot of upside thanks to his speed and athleticism, but Pierre-Louis didn't get a chance to finish last season, which is why he savored a return to game action so much last week.
"It was definitely big," Pierre-Louis said. "You always want to get that first hit out of the way. I'm the type of guy that I get pretty jittery and nervous before the game, but once the whistle is blown it's like you forget everything. So you know you take rep after rep and you get into a routine of things, and then you just go from there and keep playing football."
Pierre-Louis has been impressive enough in training camp that Pete Carroll says he might have to find a way to get the outside linebacker defensive snaps this season even if all three starters are healthy. Teams generally don't rotate linebackers, and the Seahawks have a very talented starting group in Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Bruce Irvin, but as good as Pierre-Louis has been, he might convince his coaches to give one of those starters an occasional series off. It's a good problem to have, to be sure. Just like when Malcolm Smith was Seattle's top backup linebacker, the Seahawks feel like they have more starters than they do positions available thanks to Pierre-Louis, Brock Coyle and Mike Morgan, and whether it's this year or a year or two down the road, Pierre-Louis figures to have a prominent role in the defense.
"He is a classic (weakside) linebacker," Carroll said. "He's exactly the type of guy you're looking for in terms of speed and movement and all of that. We've been recruiting and drafting for a long time to find a guy that runs 4.4 (second 40-yard dash) that can play the linebacker. He's done a great job. He's really an exciting player for us."
Getting Pierre-Louis into a game would be a bit easier because he can essentially be the top backup at any spot thanks to K.J. Wright's versatility. Because Wright, Seattle's starting weakside linebacker, can play all three linebacker positions, Pierre-Louis could theoretically spell any linebacker with Wright moving to another spot if he's not the one coming off the field.
In Friday's game, Pierre-Louis looked great at times, but also made a few mistakes, which probably was to be expected for a player who missed as much time as he did. And even when there were mistakes, such as Pierre-Louis missing a tackle on Travis Kelce on a 23-yard gain, he came back and had a tackle for a 3-yard loss on the very next play, showing off his speed to get into the backfield and tackle Chiefs running back Knile Davis.
"To be able to have a mishap in one play and bounce back the next play, it showed myself that I've grown a little bit, I have a little bit more maturity," Pierre-Louis said. "I wasn't stuck on just one play, and once again it was a learning opportunity. Just trying to read the quarterback's eyes, it taught me to be a little bit more patient and just really protect my hash and keep going from there. So once again those game reps, you got to love them, they're all learning opportunities."
For Pierre-Louis, the key is translating his blazing speed into playing fast in games, which isn't always the same thing. And so far, for the most part he is doing that very well.
"It's not just the natural speed, it's the ability," linebackers coach Michael Barrow said, pointing out that he has seen plenty of linebackers who run fast 40-yard dash times but can't play fast in games. "When you've got live ammo, guys flying around, typically guys play slower, but he's not a guy like that. He's a guy who can see it. He's a read and react guy, and he can go. That's priceless."
Pierre-Louis doesn't know exactly what his role will be this season, but he should have chances to contribute on defense in some capacity while also being a key special teams player. He also might end up in a starting role this week depending on the status of Bruce Irvin, who is going through the league's concussion protocol. Pierre-Louis was the first linebacker off the bench Friday night when Irvin was out of the game, with Wright moving to strongside linebacker, and that will likely be the way the Seahawks line up should Irvin be held out of preseason game No. 3.
"Coach Carroll always harps on next man up, and getting reps with the ones has definitely been great, but I just have to make sure that we don't lose anything when I come in," Pierre-Louis said. "I make sure I bring that caliber and represent the defense well, and it's also just a confidence builder as I get more reps with them, knowing that I belong out there with those guys."
Whenever Pierre-Louis gets into the game first, be it on special teams or defense, his plan is to do what coaches love most from linebackers.
"My game plan going into this game is to be more physical," he said. "I've been pretty physical during camp. I don't think last game I was as physical as I would've liked to be, but that's the number one thing I'm going into this game. Alignments, assignments, but make sure I really bring it. Make sure I bring my hips on the tackles, dislodging from offensive lineman, showing that even though I might be a smaller linebacker, I'm bringing the heat, I'm bringing the hits."
"Turnover Thursday" was the motto for Wednesdays practice of preseason week 3 in preparation for the San Diego Chargers.