RENTON, Wash. – Competition is such a central theme of everything Pete Carroll does with the Seattle Seahawks that he gave a rookie seventh-round pick a chance to start at left guard in the NFC playoffs.
Michael Bowie responded to the challenge admirably.
Moving Bowie into the starting lineup was a surprise decision going into Seattle's NFC divisional playoff game against New Orleans on Saturday. He played every snap as part of an offensive line that led the Seahawks to a 23-15 victory in their best game running the football since Week 10 thanks to 140 yards rushing from Marshawn Lynch.
Seattle finished with 174 yards rushing against the Saints.
"Really it was competition. Mike had done a lot of good things," Carroll said. "We think he's a fine athlete, he's shown poise and smarts and all that in the nine starts that he had, with the two weeks. So we said, 'Let's give him a shot and take a look at it.' So we started in the bye week and carried it through and he did a nice job."
Getting a start in the playoffs was another notch in an unlikely rookie season for Bowie. Taken with the Seahawks' final choice in the April draft, Bowie went from roster long shot to an invaluable option on Seattle's offensive line.
He fell in the draft because he left Oklahoma State after his junior season and spent his final college season at Division II Northeastern State. But Seattle took a late-round flyer on Bowie and may have found a gem with the versatility to play multiple positions.
The Seahawks used numerous players at left guard this season because of injuries. Paul McQuistan began the year there, but was moved to left tackle after Week 2 when Russell Okung went down with a toe injury. Between Weeks 3 and 10, former first-round pick James Carpenter started at the position. When Okung returned, McQuistan moved back to left guard and split time with Carpenter.
All the while Bowie was proving his value. He got his chance to start at his natural position of tackle for seven straight weeks when right tackle Breno Giacomini went down with a knee injury. Bowie showed he had the versatility to be a guard when he started at right guard in Week 16 against Arizona with J.R. Sweezy out due to a concussion.
"I think we thought that he had some flexibility there," Carroll said. "He's such a big kid that he could be a tackle. He seems very comfortable at guard though."
Bowie said he was informed on the Monday before the Saints game that he would get the start at left guard. Getting that full week of preparation helped him deal with any nerves that might have come from starting at a new position in the postseason.
"I just had to switch my brain over to the left side and make that my focus," Bowie said. "Nah not at all. You just have to relax and play football. The preparation was there for me this week, I wouldn't say I was stressing about it, I just put a bunch of time into it, and that was my main focus. I just made sure I got everything right. The timing right, the technique right, just everything."
Of course, Carroll left open the possibility that Bowie's chance was a one-time deal when asked about how his offensive line would look against the 49ers.
"You'll have to wait and see," Carroll said.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org