Lawyer Milloy said from the beginning that he would accept whatever role he was given when he joined the Seahawks just before the start of the season.
Seahawks coach Jim Mora, who also coached Milloy in Atlanta, insisted they were brining him in as a backup to Jordan Babineaux.
Nobody, of course, believed that.
Milloy, a Tacoma native and University of Washington All-American, had been a starting safety his entire NFL career, and a darn good one at that. Milloy has played in four Pro Bowls during his 13-year career, so when the Seahawks signed him after cutting Brian Russell, it seemed like it was only a matter of time until Milloy replaced Babineaux in the starting lineup.
Yet nine games into the season, the 36-year-old is still seeing most of his action on special teams and in a few defensive packages that call for six or seven defensive backs.
And rather than create problems, the Pro Bowler turned special-teams stalwart is the textbook definition of a team player. After a 3-6 start that for the most part has been full of negatives, Milloy has quietly been one of the best stories of an otherwise dreary Seahawks season.
Sure he’d rather be starting, but if special teams is what the Seahawks need from Milloy, then he’ll bust his butt playing on kick returns, kick coverage, punt team and punt returns.
Don’t think for a second that that is normal for a player of Milloy’s stature.
“It’s more than rare,” said special teams’ coach Bruce DeHaven, who is in his 23rd season coaching special teams in the NFL. “I can count on one hand the number of times since I’ve been coaching where I’ve had a long-term veteran that has been a starter his whole career come in and be a productive and positive influence on special teams.”
And even DeHaven had his doubts when Milloy first arrived in Seattle.
“I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong on this,” he said. “When I found out he was coming in, I was dubious at best to how it would work out. I didn’t know him, just knew he’d been a great player in this league and that’s a hard thing for a guy that had been a starter and a Pro Bowler to all of a sudden take a secondary role. And I could not be happier. Could not be happier. He has made a difference for us on special teams, he’s a leader, he’s a tough guy, he’s a positive influence. I’m going on and on and on here, but that’s how excited I am about having him as part of what we’re doing.”
Now don’t read this and think that Milloy is happy to be limited to a special teams role. He’d much rather be starting, and it’s been harder than he anticipated to be a backup, but Milloy isn’t the kind of player who is going to pout if things aren’t going his way.
“It’s been the toughest thing in my career to sit on the bench,” he said. “My eye is always on the prize, and when I came here I came here under these circumstances, and I signed a contract and I’m loyal to it. Coach Mora is a guy I heavily respect, that’s why I went to Atlanta four years ago, and he mapped it out for me. I had a chance to play at home, eventually when my number is called just be ready.
“Honestly as the season progressed I thought I was going to be able to accept that role and run with it, but being on the sideline is something that I’m not very comfortable with. I’m not saying that’s going to change anything, I respect the young safeties that we have here, the team that we have. I really can’t worry about what I can’t control, and that’s the way I’ve handled it.”
Milloy admits that he’s wondered if he made the right choice signing with the Seahawks. Yes, he is playing back at home for the first time since he was a Husky, and yes he enjoys playing for Mora, but what if he’d signed somewhere else? Maybe, he can’t help but think, he’d be starting for another team somewhere in the league. At 36, Milloy is the oldest player on the Seahawks roster other than kicker Olindo Mare, but he still feels like he can contribute. He also is aware, however, that his productive days are limited.
“I fought with it in my mind some times, was it worth it?” he said. “But those are selfish thoughts, so I fight those. I fight those and quickly try to think about the team.”
And the team is happy to have Milloy. In addition to his role on special teams, he’s been getting more involved in the defense, seeing his most playing time last week against the pass-happy Cardinals. Mora said as the season goes on he hopes to find more uses for Milloy, who in his limited playing time has shown he can still dish out the hard hits that made him a Pro Bowler in New England.
On special teams, Milloy has taken to mentoring young players, many of whom struggled just to make the roster. To those players, seeing a veteran of Milloy’s stature doing special teams grunt work leaves a lasting impression.
“That’s just a very humbling experience,” said reserve cornerback Roy Lewis, another former Husky who the Seahawks recently signed off their practice squad. “This guy has every accolade possible in the National Football League, hopefully a future Hall of Famer, just a great all around guy, and he accepted his role … He’s accepted that role and he takes the younger guys under his wings. It’s good to see an older guy, maybe the oldest guy on the team, a guy of that stature still running around full speed on special teams.”
Lawyer Milloy would much rather be starting this week in Minnesota, but until that time comes, if it ever does, he’ll just be the old guy on special teams doing whatever he can to help his team.
“This guy, here he is, he’s 36, in his 14th year in the league, he’s been a four-time Pro Bowler, he’s won a Super Bowl ring, I mean, he’s a pretty well-acclaimed player,” Mora said. “And he’s come in here and been really good on special teams, and accepted that role and tried to excel at it. I think it’s really a testament to the type of man he is.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog