There are longer-tenured Seahawks than Mike Morgan, but nobody on Seattle's roster has more time playing for Pete Carroll than the outside linebacker out of USC who will make just his second career start when the Seahawks host San Francisco on Sunday.
Since graduating from Skyline High School in Dallas, Texas in 2006, Morgan spent five seasons at USC, and is now in his fifth season with the Seahawks, which means that over the past decade of football, Morgan has spent only one year, 2010, playing for a head coach other than Carroll.
For most of his tenure, Morgan has been a backup linebacker and special team standout, but with starting strongside linebacker Bruce Irvin out with a knee injury, Morgan will make his first start since 2012. And the Seahawks are confident the veteran who is very well-versed in Carroll's system will play well in Irvin's absence.
"He's as dyed in the wool as you can get," Carroll said. "He's been with us for so long, and he's always been a terrific team member. He has the flexibility to play all the spots, everything makes sense to him. He's also a very good teammate in terms of helping his other guys around him understand, learn, and what we expect and all of that. He's been a great player for us for a long time, and we've been very lucky to have him. Him getting to start in this one, I'm excited for him too. I talked to him about it just today. He's got a look in his eye, he's got that gleam. He knows he's got to step up. This is what he wants, this is what he plays for. It's a good time. We expect him to play well."
Morgan tried to downplay the significance of a rare start—Irvin and K.J. Wright, Seattle's starting outside linebackers, have been durable, missing just four games between them due to injury over the past two seasons, and Malcolm Smith had previously been the top backup linebacker before leaving in free agency. Morgan said, "nothing changes" in terms of his preparation for the 49ers other than more practice reps, but admitted he's "Excited about the opportunity to get out there and play. Football is football, I'm just going to go out there and do my job and have fun… I'll go out there and do my job. I've been playing in this defense for nine years, so I'm excited for the opportunity to get out there and play."
Despite being an old vet in Carroll's system, Morgan continues to evolve his game, and spent time in the offseason working to be a more complete linebacker, working on everything from pass coverage to hand-in-the-ground pass rushing.
"I've tried to develop my game all around," Morgan said. "Pass dropping, rushing, trying to be more versatile. Whatever I can do to help the team is what I'm going to do."
By turning to Morgan, the Seahawks also are able to keep K.J. Wright at weakside linebacker, where he has thrived since moving from strongside to weakside in 2013. The other option with Irvin out would have been to move Wright to his old position and have Kevin Pierre-Louis start at weakside linebacker.
Wright, who is having what might be the best season of his five-year career, gave a "yeah, woo!" to the idea of not switching positions. He's also excited to see his longtime teammate get a start after years of hard work in practice and on special teams.
"I'm happy for him, and he'll do just fine," Wright said. "He has started a couple of games. Whenever somebody gets hurt and he goes in, we don't miss a beat. He'll do a good job out there, and I'm happy for him… He knows what he's been doing, he has played five years in the NFL, played for coach Carroll for all that time. He's a pro. He'll do a good job out there."