When the Seahawks needed another option at strongside linebacker heading into last week's game at New Orleans, they didn't have to look very far. After spending two-and-a-half seasons as Bobby Wagner's backup at middle linebacker, Brock Coyle was approached with a new opportunity last week—learn a new position and earn his first start since the 2014 season.
Coyle showed enough in his one week at a new spot to get the start against the Saints, and in the most significant playing time he has seen since his rookies season (32 of 76 defensive snaps), Coyle played well enough for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to name him the starter again this week.
"Yeah he's doing a nice job," Carroll said. "I'm anxious to see him come on back. He had a very good week, it was somewhat of a rush last (week), so he'll get better as we're going. He's a very smart player, plays hard and tough and we love having him on the field."
Coyle's opportunity, like so many in the NFL, came about because of injuries. Starting strongside linebacker Mike Morgan is currently on injured reserve with a sports hernia, and his replacement, Kevin Pierre-Louis, has missed the past two games with an ankle injury. Cassius Marsh is another option at strongside linebacker, but with Michael Bennett out with a knee injury, Marsh is playing more snaps at his natural position, defensive end. Plus, with the Seahawks playing a pass-heavy Saints offense last week, defensive coordinator Kris Richard noted that Coyle was a better fit at strongside linebacker than was a converted end.
"We knew we're dealing with a passing team, so we wanted to get a guy who is a little better in space, a guy who has been more familiar out there in space, and he actually did a good job for us," Richard said. "He's got a lot of power, he was strong at the point of attack. We're certainly looking forward to him getting better in some of our blitz packages.
"The fact that he was able to get out there and finish a football game, I think it's remarkable that you can take a guy who has essentially not played the position, training for a week. It's a testament to the coaching staff. The guys right there, Michael Barrow, Lofa Tatupu, John Glenn, those guys did a fantastic job of getting him prepared."
And while Coyle's chance to start was the result of injuries, it was up to him to take advantage of that opportunity, and he did just that, playing well enough that he's still expected to start this week even with Pierre-Louis back from his injury.
"Obviously any time you can get on the field, it's a great opportunity, and one I want to take advantage of, especially being part of a defense like ours," said Coyle, who is one of many undrafted free agent success stories on Seattle's roster. "It was great, and I've just got to continue to prepare and keep going.
"I always want to do whatever the team asks of me. When they asked me to make the switch, I was ready for it. It was a position I've never played before, but the coaches did a great job getting me prepared. I was just happy to help the team any way you can."
The move from middle linebacker to strongside linebacker isn't an easy one. While Seattle's weakside and middle linebackers both play off the line of scrimmage and have some similar responsibilities, the strongside linebacker usually lines up at or near the line, creating different matchups and responsibilities.
"It's definitely a lot different in your reads and your keys, but at the same time, if you really study it, it's not super complicated," Coyle said. "But it was definitely a lot different. I've been behind the ball my whole career, so being there was definitely new for me. But again, with proper preparation, it worked out."
K.J. Wright, who has started at all three linebacker spots during his career, was impressed with how Coyle made the transition last week to a new position.
"He did good, he did really good," Wright said. "I'm telling you, just watch his pass rush—he did a good job bending, turning the corner and all that good stuff. He's still learning, he only had one week to prepare, now he has another week, and I believe it's going to be really good for him. He has good instincts, so he'll be fine… It is different. But with his strength, he can set that edge, and with his instincts, he'll see things that get our on the perimeter, so he's going to be good there."
Added middle linebacker Bobby Wagner: "I think Brock did really, really well for a guy who's never played (strongside linebacker) before. He was kind of just thrown into the mix, but everyone knew he could do it because he's so smart and so athletic. He's capable of doing that. The coaches and us as players, we trust him, he cares, he's studying his ass off and he's doing well."
And while Coyle's main focus Monday night will be on playing well and helping Seattle's defense, it isn't lost on him that there's also a unique story in this game that involves his alma mater, the University of Montana. According to The Missoulian, there are eight Grizzly players on NFL rosters/injured reserve lists, the most of any FCS school, and four of them play for the two teams that will face off Monday night: Coyle, Seahawks linebacker Jordan Tripp, Bills kicker Dan Carpenter and Bills safety Colt Anderson, who is on injured reserve. Coyle and Tripp not only played together at Montana, they were in the same class, started together at linebacker, and were team captains together as seniors, and now they have neighboring lockers in the Seahawks locker room.
"We're so focused on this season and the team and winning games that we don't really realize how special it is," Coyle said. "It is pretty special that we came into Montana together, graduated together, were team captains together our senior year, and now we're on the same team in the NFL. It's pretty special."
The Seahawks and the Bills have played each other 12 times throughout their history. Seattle is currently leading the series 7-5. The two teams will face off again this Monday Night during Week 9 at CenturyLink Field.