RENTON — Seahawks rookie cornerback Coby Bryant’s name has always had a dual purpose.
His parents indeed named him after legendary basketball player Kobe Bryant but intentionally gave it a different spelling, so that he could, as he explained, have “my own journey. It was an honor to be named after a legend, and my hero. But they just wanted me to have my own name and represent my name the best way I could.”
So throughout his athletic career, Bryant has also usually had his own number. He wore No. 7 for most of last season at the University of Cincinnati where he won the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in college football.
Throughout his youth-sports career he said the only time he wore either of the numbers Kobe Bryant made famous during his NBA career was when he wore No. 24 when he played baseball as an 11- and 12-year-old.
But now that he’s accomplished his goal of making it to the NFL — having undoubtedly created his own legacy — Bryant is even more fully embracing honoring his namesake.
Bryant said Saturday after taking part in the second practice of the Seahawks’ three-day rookie minicamp that he had planned to ask the team if he could have jersey No. 8 when he arrived.
Turns out he didn’t need to bother.
“That was the plan, actually, to ask for it in on my rookie year,” Bryant said. “But then they just offered it to me. So it was like God’s plan from the jump. As soon as (the team) asked me if I would wear it I said, ‘Absolutely, without question.”’
Bryant wore No. 8 one other time in his football career, asking if he could switch from No. 7 for Cincy’s game against Alabama in the Cotton Bowl last December, saying, “I realized that I wanted to do something different and go playoff Kobe.”
Bryant wouldn’t have been able to wear No. 8 in the NFL before the league changed uniform rules last season, allowing defensive backs to wear any number from 1-49 (previously DBs had to wear numbers from 20-49).
He also wouldn’t have been able to wear it with the Seahawks last year since it was worn by defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who was released in March, making it available.
Bryant says the name — and presumably the number — aren’t pressure, but “more of a privilege” and something that makes him “have to work twice as hard to live up to it.””
Simply trying to make his way in the NFL as a rookie is pressure enough. But if first impressions are anything Bryant may be able to live up to it.
“Coby Bryant made a really nice first day of it,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Friday after the first minicamp practice. “(He) is really an accomplished college kid coming out. He just seems like he is comfortable. He understands it, he gets it.”
Saturday, during a full team session, Bryant showed the instincts the team has touted when he stepped in front of a pass near the sideline. He couldn’t quite control it, the ball slipping out of his hands for what he acknowledged was a drop he should have had.
But as he also noted, he technically wasn’t supposed to have his hands on the ball in the first place. With players not in pads, defensive backs are not supposed to make plays on the ball.
Bryant said in this case he couldn’t help it.
“Being the competitor I am, that’s like the first thing I try to do is go for the ball,” Bryant said.
He did that well enough to make nine interceptions and defend 35 pass during his last four full seasons at Cincy, as the Bearcats went from 4-8 his freshman season to winning 11, 11, nine and 13 games.
He was universally lauded for his leadership at Cincy, named a team captain as a senior. Seahawks general manager John Schneider said coaches there “called him the culture changer.”
All of which is why the Seahawks couldn’t have been happier to see Bryant — who some mock drafts had going as high as the second round — still available at pick 109 in the fourth round last Saturday, a pick they got as part of the Jamal Adams trade. That it was regarded as a deep cornerback class undoubtedly helped lead to Bryant’s name still being on the board.
The Seahawks’ cornerback situation means Bryant will be given every opportunity to step into immediate playing time.
The Seahawks let DJ Reed enter free agency, where he signed a three-year deal worth up to $33 million with the Jets. That left neither of the team’s two starting spots settled heading into camp. The Seahawks hope 2021 draft pick Tre Brown makes a full recovery from a knee injury that ended his season last November. They re-signed former UW star Sidney Jones, signed 2016 Steelers first-round pick Artie Burns and drafted Tariq Woolen at 153 overall to fill out their cornerback corps
Brown impressed in three starts last year at left cornerback, and if healthy may be the leader heading into camp at that spot.
That’s where Bryant played Saturday.
It’s a new role after he played as a field corner, or on the wide side of the field, with Cincy, meaning he could line up on either side depending on the play. Now, he’ll stick to one side.
He’s at least something of a, well, step ahead in another thing the Seahawks ask of their cornerbacks. He said that he is “extremely familiar” with the famed “step kick” technique, in which corners line up close to the line of scrimmage and at the snap take a step laterally to read the receiver’s movement before kicking back in the direction the receiver takes off.
“That’s what we did at Cincinnati, too,” Bryant said. “… So it’s just about taking it to the next level and being that dominant cornerback that hopefully I can be and that I pride myself to be.”