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The real McCoy

Posted Sep 21, 2011

Given a chance to play linebacker in the nickel and short-yardage defenses, special teams standout Matt McCoy has not only been playing but making plays for the Seahawks.


In his first season with the Seahawks, Matt McCoy never even got on the field as a linebacker.

Well, that’s not totally true. “I played one snap. In the playoffs,” McCoy said with the smile.

This season? McCoy not only is playing, he’s making plays while lining up as the middle linebacker in the goal-line defense – between David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill – and also filling that spot in the nickel.

The defense has been the best part of the Seahawks during their 0-2 start. The goal-line and red-zone packages have been the best part of the unit. And McCoy has been one of the best players in those packages.

“Matt has had a very effective camp for us and start to the season,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s really blossomed as a guy that can do a lot of things. He can play all three positions for us at linebacker and he’s one of our best special teams players.

“Just his awareness and his understanding of the scheme has really helped him. He’s been a good nickel player for us, so he’s got a big role for us now.”

As the Seahawks prepare for Sunday’s home opener against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field, McCoy ranks fifth on the team with 10 tackles. But with McCoy, it’s not so much that he’s made those tackles, but when he’s made them.

In the opener at San Francisco, he stopped 49ers running back Frank Gore for a 1-yard loss on second-and-goal from the Seahawks’ 3-yard line. In the Week 2 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh, he tackled wide receiver Hines Ward after a 1-yard gain and teamed with defensive tackles Alan Branch and Anthony Hargrove and nickel back Walter Thurmond to stop running back Rashard Mendenhall for no gain, 1 yard and 2 yards.

Playing, and making plays, in his seventh season in the league. It just doesn’t get any better than that for the linebacker from San Diego State who was a second-round draft choice by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005.

“It’s a blast,” McCoy said. “It’s the chance I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been playing special teams for a long time, but I haven’t played linebacker for a while. So it’s just fun to be out there again.”

McCoy started 10 games for the Eagles in 2006 and produced a career-high 81 tackles. Career high? He hasn’t had more than 14 tackles in a season since then while playing for the New Orleans Saints (2007), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2008-09) and Seahawks (2010).

“I’ve been working really hard,” McCoy said. “The main thing is gaining the coaches’ trust and I think I earned their trust in training camp, so they’re giving me a chance to play a little bit. I’ve just got to keep it going and make some plays this week.”

As for waiting his turn, even when it seemed that turn never would come, McCoy offered, “This game is crazy. This game is so up-and-down. You’ve just got to be prepared and you’ve got to believe in yourself, because you never know when your opportunity is going to come.”

As happy as McCoy is to be getting an opportunity to play linebacker, he hasn’t let it diminish his impact on special teams. He led the Seahawks in coverage tackles last season (19) and he’s the leader again this season (three).

“It’s critical for me to be out there on special teams,” McCoy said. “That’s my unit. That’s what got me into this league and has kept me in this league. So I’ve got to stay true to it and bust my butt every time I get out there.”

But back to when the Seahawks have been backed up against their own goal line.

“When you’re backed up, you’ve got to be aggressive,” McCoy said. “If you’re not aggressive and you’re passive, then they’re going to score. So you’ve got to attack, and we’ve been doing that.

“Then you feed off that. It’s exciting that we’re doing so well down there. We’ve just got to keep it going. It’s a new week, so we’ve got to put that behind us and move forward.”

But not before taking another look at just how those goal-line stands happened.

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers had a first-and-goal at the 1, but McCoy and Branch stopped Mendenhall for a 1-yard gain; Atari Bigby, a safety in the “big nickel” package, blitzed and sacked Ben Roethlisberger for a 7-yard loss on second down; Roethlisberger scrambled for 7 yards on third down; and free safety Earl Thomas stopped Mendenhall for no gain on fourth down.

In San Francisco, the 49ers also had a first-and-goal from the 1, only to have strong safety Kam Chancellor drop Gore for a 2-yard loss on first down; McCoy stop him for a 1-yard loss on second down; and Chancellor and middle linebacker K.J. Wright stop him for a 3-yard gain on third down. It left the 49ers to settle for a field goal.

In those two games, the 49ers and Steelers have run 26 plays from inside the Seahawks’ 20 and generated 34 yards – 10 yards on 11 plays by the Steelers; 24 on 15 plays by the 49ers.

“We’re just well prepared,” McCoy said. “Gus (Bradley, the coordinator) shows us a lot of film and puts us in the right defense to make plays. So we’re real aggressive down there and it’s been pretty good the last two games.”

As has McCoy, now that he’s getting a chance to play linebacker.

“Matt is a team leader on special teams and in the nickel and short-yardage stuff on the goal line – he had a great play on the goal line (against the Steelers),” Carroll said. “So he’s done a real nice job of contributing right now.”