Before a team meeting at the opening of training camp last season, 15-year veteran Lawyer Milloy walked over to rookie free safety Earl Thomas and welcomed him to the NFL.
That was typical of Milloy, who believed it was his mission to make Thomas feel wanted, while at the same time making sure the Seahawks’ prized first-round pick didn’t feel as if he’d already made it in the NFL.
Milloy had a way of making young players feel comfortable and anxious at the same time. He made them understand that playing in the league was not their birthright. Playing time, no matter how high their draft status, had to be earned.
Milloy was both a disciplinarian and a good friend. Drill sergeant tough and guidance counselor compassionate.
And the doors to the Lawyer Milloy Center for the Study of Professional Football always were open.
“First time I met him, he asked me my name,” Thomas said. “I have to be honest, I didn’t know who he was.”
Later that day, after admitting to himself that there were gaps in his knowledge of NFL history, Thomas did his research.
“It was crazy, once I did my research, to see what a great player he was and how much he had accomplished in the game,” said Thomas, a first-round pick in 2010. “I mean, he was a great player. He is a future Hall of Famer. But here he was that first day, just being a humble guy, taking time out for little old me. He didn’t have to do that, but I really appreciated it.”
Milloy is an unsigned free agent. He is not on the Seahawks’ roster, and his No. 36 jersey has been given to another player. These first few post-lockout days have felt like something from “The Twilight Zone.” The makeup of the Seahawks has changed quickly and dramatically. It’s like a cyclone hit the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. You truly can’t tell the players without a scorecard.
And while the Hawks definitely had to get younger, there is a danger in getting too young, too quickly. Even rebuilding teams need veteran leaders. Rookies need role models. Young players need wise men alongside them.
But in this second year of the reign of coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks are significantly younger than they were last season.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, the team’s offensive leader for a decade, has gone to Tennessee. Strong safety Milloy, who was at the center of the development of both Thomas and Kam Chancellor, apparently isn’t returning.
“Without Lawyer we don’t really have that older guy to really guide you like we had last year,” said Chancellor, who is Milloy’s heir apparent. “Lawyer brought that intensity to the field. And every time I had a question, he answered it for me. He taught me the steps.
“It was good having Lawyer around because he’s like a legend, man. He was one of those faces that was feared. It’s kind of hard to believe he went that many years, the way he hit. I feel blessed to have been behind a guy like that. Big shoes to fill. I’m ready.”
Chancellor said Milloy emphasized to him the importance of film study and learning his assignments. He said Milloy taught him how to be a leader, how to take control of the players in the secondary. He demanded that Chancellor bring intensity to every practice.
“He showed the young guys the way,” Chancellor said.
Milloy will be missed. Time will tell just how much.
“Coming in, I heard that the veterans don’t help the rookies,” Chancellor said. “It was kind of scary when I first came in because you’re always worried about being cut. But Lawyer and some of the other guys, they always said that’s not something you worry about. They said, ‘If you just come out and give your all every day, you won’t have anything to worry about.’ ”
Chancellor, a fifth-round pick in 2010, is one of the young Seahawks you should get to know.
Milloy was a one-man storm cell. Chancellor, 23, is his natural successor.
“He plays a lot like Lawyer,” Thomas said of Chancellor. “He doesn’t go out there and just run around. He knows how to play. Obviously, Lawyer has a lot more knowledge after 15 years in the game, but I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat. I see flashes from Kam all the time. He plays with a reckless abandon.”
And now the kids shall lead.
“It’s my time,” Chancellor said.