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Seattle Times
Rookie receiver Austin Coleman is trying to impress the Seahawks with his speed.

Trying to make it in big man’s game

Former St. Francis star catches coaches’ eyes at Seahawks’ rookie camp

Seattle Times
Seahawks receiver Austin Coleman takes part in drills during the start of rookie minicamp at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Friday in Renton, Wash. Coleman is one of 47 undrafted rookies trying out at the camp.

– The first practice of his NFL career was 2 hours old, and Austin Coleman had yet to distinguish himself. The former Harding and Saint Francis star was slow to pick up the nuances of a complex offense, he hadn’t been the target of any meaningful passes and the 5-foot-7 receiver was hardly standing out on the Seattle Seahawks’ practice field.

As most of the players at the Seahawks’ rookie minicamp filed off the field, Coleman stayed behind for what may have been the most important moment of his three-day tryout. He joined three other rookies in catching punts with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll standing a few feet away watching intently.

After the session was over, Carroll walked past Coleman and shared a quick word of encouragement.

It could be the kind of moment Coleman can one day share with his grandchildren. Or maybe, it was the start of something special.

“It means a lot,” Coleman said of having the head coach single him out after practice. “He’s a great coach, and everything goes through him. So for him to come over and say something to me, it means a lot to me.”

Coleman is one of 47 undrafted rookies trying out at the camp, which also includes 20 other rookies already on the Seahawks’ 90-man roster. Any of the tryout players would have to supplant a current roster player to become one of 90 players invited to training camp – and then the real competition begins for 53 precious roster spots.

To say that Coleman has long odds of making the team is like saying Seattle is a long way from his hometown, but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’m just going to go out, work hard and show my speed,” he said. “I don’t look at the odds. I’m not too worried about that.”

The Seahawks’ primary return man, Leon Washington, was released after the team traded for Percy Harvin. It’s conceivable that the Seahawks could be looking for a punt returner, a kickoff return man to team with Harvin and a backup slot receiver.

“I’m from a small school, so I’m doing everything – showing them I can play special teams,” Coleman said. “Even if I have to go down and (cover) kickoffs or be a gunner on punts, I’m able to do it and to showcase my speed.”

This could be Coleman’s final chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing in the NFL, and it comes a few weeks after he sat through the seven-round NFL draft without hearing his name called. Coleman, who was clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Saint Francis pro day, admits that he was initially “a little upset” about the draft-week slight but added that he was honored to get the call from the Seahawks shortly after the seventh round was completed.

Two days into his first NFL camp, Coleman was already making impressions.

Seahawks receivers coach Kippy Brown said after Saturday’s practice that he was impressed with Coleman’s natural speed and explosion, his hands and the way he came into camp in shape.

“He’s had a good camp; he really has,” Brown said.

The veteran coach was quick to add that plenty of undersized receivers have thrived in the NFL, including the Seahawks’ Harvin.

“The Wes Welkers and those guys, they’re very valuable,” Brown said. “(Coleman) is small, but he’s got size – he’s very well-built.

“Of course you’d like to have a huge guy who can do the same thing. But sometimes, they come in small packages.”