FOXBOROUGH — Justin Coleman has become as familiar with flight patterns as he is with wide receiver patterns.
After a whirlwind couple of weeks and plenty of frequent flyer miles, the cornerback’s status is no longer up in the air — at least for the next three weeks after the Patriots signed him off the Seahawks’ practice squad Sept. 9. The transaction wrapped up a hectic period in which Coleman didn’t know whether he was coming or going.
An undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, Coleman signed with the Vikings in May. Minnesota released him Aug. 30. The Patriots signed him Sept. 4 but he was cut the next day as the team trimmed its roster to 53.
The team intended to sign him to its practice squad but lost out to the Seahawks, who inked Coleman to a practice squad deal Sept. 6. He barely had time to make friends with his local Starbucks barista when the Patriots came calling again, signing him off the Seattle practice squad Sept. 9. Per league rules, he must stay on the New England’s 53 for at least three weeks.
“It was a long process. But I got the chance to experience two great programs going from the Patriots to Seattle and back to the Patriots,’’ said Coleman.
He said the lengthy flights seemingly took “forever” before adding with a smile, “But I fly first class, so . . . ’’
Coleman is grateful he can stay in one location for a while – and flattered that the Patriots came after him not once but twice.
“I was put in a great situation to come to the Patriots,’’ he said. “Was able to get on the active roster so that’s a plus for me. It’s an honor to play for the Patriots. Getting a chance to play for Bill [Belichick] and all these other coaches. It shows that they were really interested in me and wanted to invest their time in me.’’
The 5-foot-11-inch, 188-pound Coleman had a solid performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, clocking a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash, a 6.61 in the three-cone drill, and a 3.98 in the short shuttle. Additionally, he had a 37.5-inch vertical leap and a 10-4 in the broad jump.
Known as a big-hitting, run-supporting nickel corner despite his comparative lack of size, Coleman played four years with the Volunteers. In 2011, he became the first true freshman to start in the secondary since Eric Berry (2007) — not bad company.
He started all 13 games his senior season, collecting 42 tackles, 4 for losses, 4 interceptions, and 9 passes defended. He capped his college career by playing in the East-West Shrine game, in which he had four tackles.
Coleman said he thrives on — and never shies away from — contact.
“Pure physicality,’’ said Coleman when asked to describe his style of play. “Guys are not going to push me around. But I have ability to cover guys for long distances. I give it 100 percent on every play I go.’’
Looking through his college highlights, he had some of his most memorable performances against Southeastern Conference powerhouse Alabama, collecting 25 total tackles – including a career-high 13 in 2012 — in his final three games against the Crimson Tide.
He said he recalled those battles fondly — and one play in particular stands out.
“I remember going against a big back — Eddy Lacy — one year,’’ Coleman said of the 5-11, 235-pound thumper now with the Packers. “It was just me and him head-on at the goal line . . . you could tell we was going to meet at the goal line, and I ended up stopping him at the 1 and it was huge. I mean it wasn’t an easy job but it was a big play.’’
Coleman said he lives for those moments.
“You know, I feel like when the competition level rises the expectation level rises along with it and I play a lot better,’’ he said.
So far he’s enjoyed the competition level at camp and he’s taking it all in. He’s not only learning the playbook but absorbing lessons from the staff and his new teammates as well.
“I thought it was going to be a lot more difficult to learn the playbook but it’s a lot simpler than I thought,’’ said Coleman. “I mean, it is pretty difficult for a guy to just come in and pick up the playbook immediately but I am getting the hang of it. I got most of the playbook down. The basics of it. I got a lot to learn though.’’
He joins a depth chart headed by Malcolm Butler and Tarell Brown at the starting spots, with Bradley Fletcher and Logan Ryan the top backups. The team also has Dax Swanson on its practice squad.
“[It’s] competition of course,’’ Coleman said of being around his new running mates. “[They’re] great guys with great character and you see that on the field. I’m just trying to learn from them, watching their techniques.’’