RENTON — When Ken Norton Jr. says Seahawks linebacker Mike Morgan “is having the camp of a lifetime,” that proclamation has some real meaning.
As Morgan enters his fourth season with the Seahawks, he’s also going on a decade knowing and playing for Norton, the Seahawks’ current linebackers coach and Morgan’s position coach at USC as well. In fact, Norton even recruited Morgan when he was a skinny high school linebacker in Dallas.
With Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith still recovering from offseason surgeries, Morgan has been Seattle’s starting strongside linebacker throughout training camp and in last week’s preseason game, and the Seahawks feel like they haven’t missed a beat with Morgan filling in for a first-round pick.
“This kid is having the camp of a lifetime,” Norton said. “He’s starting at SAM linebacker right now with Bruce gone, and you don’t even miss Bruce with this guy playing. He’s really fast. He’s also the backup LEO on the nickel as a rushing specialist. He’s a leader on special teams — every time we turn on tape of the kickoff team or punt team, he’s the guy on the highlight reel tackling everybody. He’s fast, he’s very smart, he’s durable, extremely reliable.”
Carroll, who obviously also has a long history with Morgan, is equally impressed with the linebacker’s growth.
“This is the best we’ve ever seen of Mike,” Carroll said. “He’s healthy, he’s the strongest he’s ever been. I’ve got a lot of reservoir here, and this is his best football he’s ever played, and it’s really pleasing. He’s a huge factor on special teams for us. He can play three different spots at linebacker, playing nickel situations and all that, just a really versatile guy. He is kind of quietly doing a great job, really is what’s happening. He’s just taking over for Bruce when Bruce isn’t there and done a great job for him.”
During offseason workouts, Korey Toomer was the backup linebacker creating a buzz, and with Seattle adding fourth-round pick Kevin Pierre-Louis to an already deep group of linebackers, and with undrafted rookie Brock Coyle turning heads and grabbing headlines, it’s been easy to overlook the steady growth of Morgan. Morgan signed with Seattle as an undrafted rookie in 2011, was cut, then rejoined the Seahawks later that season and has provided depth and strong special teams play during the past 21/2 seasons.
Some of Morgan’s growth has been physical. As Norton notes, the linebacker played at 211 pounds for most of his college career and is currently playing between 235 and 240 pounds, a bit over his listed weight of 226. But the biggest reason Norton says Morgan “is headed for a breakout season,” is the attitude adjustment that took place in 2011.
“He came in and wasn’t quite sure,” Norton said. “He wasn’t as confident as you’d like your pros to be. He had an average camp as a rookie, we released him, and I think that was an eye-opener for him. A lot of guys come out of college and come with the college-scholarship mentality of, ‘If I have a bad day, I’ll be back tomorrow.” This is business. It doesn’t work that way up here. He sat home for five weeks, and when he came back he was a changed man. He understood that he needed to take advantage of his opportunity, he needed to maximize every chance he got out here.”
The business side of football Morgan discovered was that NFL careers can be over before they ever really get going, even when the man deciding the roster was his college coach.
“I’ve got a different focus,” Morgan said. “I didn’t understand it (as a rookie). I didn’t understand the NFL, understand that it was a business. Now I understand that, so I do everything I can to show my value and just continue to play hard.”
When the Seahawks re-signed Morgan midway through that rookie season, he came back with a different mindset because “that could have been it. Nobody could have called and I would have been done.”
Of course, Morgan knows he isn’t guaranteed, or even likely, to stay with the first team forever. Eventually, Irvin will recover from his hip surgery and Smith will make it back from ankle surgery, making linebacker again one of the deepest positions on Seattle’s roster. However the depth chart shakes out, Morgan will still have the same attitude that has led to this breakout camp.
“I consider myself to be a starter,” he said. “I want to be a starter and everybody should want to be a starter, but you’ve got to understand your role. If anybody’s satisfied being a backup, there’s something wrong. I just go out there every day and practice like a starter and play like I’m a starter.”
For now, Morgan is a starter and he’s playing like it to the point that even someone who has known him for nearly a decade is impressed.
“Like I said,” Norton said before repeating his praise of Morgan, “He’s having the camp of a lifetime. I’m really proud of him. He’s a special player.”
Harvin OK after scare
Given his injury history, which includes missing almost all of last season following hip surgery, any misstep by Percy Harvin is cause for concern for the Seahawks. But even though the receiver limped off the field and into the locker room late in Tuesday’s practice, it turns out he is OK after having a teammate step on the back of his foot. In fact, Harvin returned at the very end of practice to participate in one play before the team wrapped things up.
“He got stepped on,” Carroll said. “He got stepped on the back of his heel and got scraped up pretty good. He’s OK though.”
Carroll remembers Robin Williams
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Robin Williams both graduated from Redwood High School in Larkspur, Calif. in 1969, and a day after the Oscar-winning actor died, Carroll reflected on his former classmate.
“It’s a tremendous loss,” Carroll said. “We were not real close. We were in the same graduating class and all of that, but everybody knew that he was there. It’s a huge loss. What an extraordinary person and character he’s been. He’s been so constantly great for so long, it’s just a terrible loss. For everybody who loved him so much, it’s really a hard day.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.