Forget Kevin Bacon. Lawyer Milloy doesn’t even need six degrees of separation to explain how he has connected with the Seattle Seahawks to prolong his already illustrious NFL career.
The veteran safety was a late addition last year, in part, because he had played for then-coach Jim Mora when both were with the Atlanta Falcons. Milloy is back this year – for a 15th NFL season – because he played for new coach Pete Carroll when both were with the New England Patriots and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray was his defensive coordinator when they were with the Buffalo Bills.
“What expedited this situation is, they brought in another coach I was familiar with in Pete Carroll – a guy who took me to my first two Pro Bowls in his system,” Milloy said Thursday after the Seahawks’ OTA practice. “So obviously I believe in him.
“Then another way it worked out, Jerry Gray came. He was my defensive coordinator in Buffalo, and we had the No. 2-ranked defense in the league two years in a row. So he knew what I could do.”
But the biggest connection that separates Milloy from others whose careers have ended much sooner is that he still can play the game. At 36, and at a position were speed and smarts are equally essential.
Milloy has compiled some impressive numbers in his career, which began in 1996 when the Patriots selected the safety from the University of Washington and Tacoma’s Lincoln High School in the second round of the NFL draft. He has collected 100-plus tackles 11 times. He has 25 career interceptions and 17 sacks. He has been selected to four Pro Bowls and played in two Super Bowls.
But the most stunning might be this one: He has missed only six games in 14 seasons – five in 2004, while playing for the Bills; one in 2008, his last season with the Falcons.
Freak of nature? Or fitness freak?
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” Milloy said. “I’ve been very blessed. It’s a credit to how I approach the game. I try to do it at 100 percent all the time. I try to get them before they get me. That’s been my mentality.
“There’s a little genetics, too. I heal easy and I can tolerate probably more pain than the average person.”
Milloy is filling several roles after re-signing with the Seahawks on April 29. He is mentoring Earl Thomas, the free safety from Texas who was the second of the team’s two first-round draft choice last month. He is providing the kind of competition Carroll is seeking at every position. He brings a big-hitting, sure-tackling presence to a last line of defense than can use it.
“Lawyer’s a fantastic pro,” Carroll said. “He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever coached anywhere and he brings that, plus he’s got a sense of the game that can help our guys.”
In the post-draft minicamp, Jordan Babineaux, the starting free safety last season, was at strong safety and Thomas at free with the No. 1 defense. During the two weeks that Thomas was not allowed to work out with the team, the “starting” safeties were Babineaux and Milloy. This week, it has been Thomas at free and Milloy at strong.
“We’re taking a hard look at those three guys right now and seeing which ones are the best two,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “There’s strong competition there, and that’s what you hope for.”
The Seahawks re-signed Milloy despite drafting Thomas and Kam Chancellor, a 232-pound strong safety which was selected in the fifth round. The reasons have been obvious in the minicamp and OTA practices.
“Lawyer is an extremely talented player,” Bradley said. “His first or second day back with us, he went from the middle of the field to the sideline to make a play. He’s in phenomenal shape and he’s so smart. You put all those things together and he’s a guy that can make a lot of plays.
“It’s invaluable to have a guy back there like that.”
Those words are the equivalent of a symphony for Milloy, who struggled while adjusting to his role as a backup and – for the first time in his career – special teams player last season. He never said anything publically, but his frustration was evident in his body language.
“After the career I’ve had, last year was really very humbling for me,” he said. “To be in a position I wasn’t comfortable in. Not playing, being a role player. Physically and mentally, I wasn’t ready for that. But I accepted it and felt I was a good team player and all that.
“With that piece of humble pie, even coming back to Seattle was bittersweet.”
The way Milloy handled not being a starter for the first time since the first six games of his rookie season only increased his reputation as being the consummate professional. But it did give him a chance to “stay home” for the first time in a career that has taken him to New England (1996-2002), Buffalo (2003-05) and Atlanta (2006-08).
“That’s sweet,” he said. “The reason I signed last year and again this year has a lot to do with transitioning out of football – whenever that may come. This is my city. This is my home. This is the place I want to live.”