By Greg Bell The News Tribune
RENTON — For most of the last decade, Stephen Schilling has been in the center of upheaval.
The first — leaving his family’s home in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue to play for Michigan as a teen — was his own doing.
The rest — a coaching change two years into college and another regime change two years into his NFL career — were definitely not his choice.
Sunday, he was still in the center — of the offensive line for his hometown Super Bowl champions. He was the Seahawks’ first-team center.
That’s a change Schilling can live with.
Schilling was a guard last week in Seattle’s exhibition opener at Denver, and since the team signed him as a free agent in March.
But Sunday he was snapping to quarterback Russell Wilson, with starting center Max Unger still limited by a groin injury.
Offensive line coach Tom Cable says center is where Schilling will be Friday night when the Seahawks host San Diego. Whether that’s as a fill-in starter or second-teamer depends on how Unger progresses; head coach Pete Carroll said Unger may return to practice on Tuesday.
Schilling, 26, played guard and tackle while starting two games and playing in 16 others over three seasons with the Chargers. Then last September, after San Diego had released and re-signed him, Schilling became a center for the first time, but only on the Chargers’ scout team.
“It’s a lot more responsibility, obviously. You’ve got the ball in your hand every play, making calls, seeing both sides of the line, getting with the quarterback on calls,” he said. “I enjoy it, though. I really do enjoy it. You’ve got more of a grip on the game.”
And, perhaps, a grip on a Seahawks roster spot. The team figures to keep four or five reserve linemen on the regular-season roster. So playing more than one position is the way reserves such as Schilling can make the team.
Playing three triples his chances.
“If you’re not a starter you have to be playing multiple positions as a backup in this game. You can’t be playing one position,” Schilling said. “Just trying to show what I can do at different spots.”
This spot, on the eastern shore of Lake Washington, is completely familiar to him.
He is 15 minutes south of where his parents, Joanne and Ralph, still live in the home in which he grew up. This is the first time since he left Bellevue High in 2006 that he’s been back home for more than one week.
Two months ago, during Seahawks minicamps, he was there for the birth of his sister Brandi Cypher’s second child.
After the training camp portion of the preseason ends Wednesday, Schilling will be moving out of the Seahawks’ team hotel and back into the basement of a large home in Kirkland owned by his brother Michael Tudor.
The family time is filling a big void in Schilling’s personal life.
His wife Katie, a Michigan soccer player who went onto law school at U of M, is in her second year working at a firm in Chicago. They got married this spring. But she took the bar exam in Illinois, so she is tied to there for now.
“It’s really tough,” he said.
But he has his family — and now a new position — to occupy him here.
Cable has known Schilling since the coach was an assistant at UCLA in 2005. The Bruins, the hometown Washington Huskies — heck, just about every other college with a goal post — recruited him.
He chose Michigan to strike off on his own. After his sophomore season Michigan forced out coach Lloyd Carr and brought in Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia. Rodriguez changed everything, including how and where the Wolverines practiced and how they ate.
“It was a tough transition,” Schilling said. “I mean, everything changed.”
Despite not becoming the absolute dominant beast of a lineman many thought he’d be at Michigan, Schilling made it to the NFL in 2011 as San Diego’s sixth-round draft choice. He started two games as a rookie for coach Norv Turner.
Those remain the only two NFL games he’s started. The Chargers fired Turner following the 2012 season and replaced him and his staff with that of first-time head coach Mike McCoy.
The Chargers didn’t tender Schilling a contract when he became a restricted free agent this winter. Seattle was the first to call him in March, and a couple weeks later signed him to a $645,000 one-year contract.
His move to center is sending Lemuel Jeanpierre to guard this week. Jeanpierre started for Unger in Denver and played the first half, when Wilson and backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson were besieged by Broncos.
Asked about this Schilling-to-center move, Cable said: “I think it can be very viable, but want to make sure. … We are going to see who fits there at backup center and our ‘swing’ player inside.
“He came into the NFL and he’s kind of just been hanging on. I think this is a good situation for him. We are just trying to get him to re-energize and to regain his confidence, to get him to believe in the kind of player that he is.”
Asked why it didn’t work out for him in San Diego, Schilling didn’t use the excuse that he lacked opportunities. He says he simply failed to beat out starters such as Jeromey Clary.
But Seattle? It’s home. It’s comfortable.
And now, suddenly, it’s at center.
“It is,” he said, smiling, “a cool opportunity.”