One former Trojan led Seattle in receiving on Sunday while another was a starting linebacker who scored a touchdown on special teams.
That shouldn’t be all that surprising, though. When coach Pete Carroll came to Seattle everyone expected the Seahawks would become the graduate school for USC’s football program.
And while tight end Anthony McCoy and linebacker Malcolm Smith are two of the three Trojans on Seattle’s current 53-man roster, it’s where those players were picked that is most indicative of Carroll’s approach to scouting his former players.
McCoy, who caught three passes for 105 yards, was chosen in the sixth round in 2010 while Smith, who started at weakside linebacker and scored a special-teams touchdown, was a seventh-round pick a year ago.
While they’re good players and great draft picks, those aren’t exactly the kind of high-profile Trojans that people expected Carroll to begin collecting in the NFL. Remember when all it took was a bit of shared history for people to assume that Carroll wanted to sign Matt Leinart or trade for Reggie Bush? And when it came to the draft, everyone just assumed that he would start picking the players he had previously convinced to pick USC.
Except he passed on safety Taylor Mays his first year in town, and chose not to pick a speed rusher like Everson Griffen in 2011 or Nick Perry last year. He has notably cut some former Trojans, too, like running back LenDale White, receiver Mike Williams and most notably Lofa Tatupu.
And as Carroll nears the end of his third season as Seattle’s coach, it has become clear Carroll did use his insight and relationships regarding the players he had at USC, but he used that to find the undervalued and the overlooked as opposed to cherry-picking the top-shelf, blue-chippers he was known for recruiting.
Backup linebacker Mike Morgan, who was undrafted, is the only USC player other than McCoy and Smith on Seattle’s 53-man roster. McCoy’s draft status slipped because of a positive drug test at the NFL’s scouting combine in 2010, but he’s now in his third year on the roster and against Arizona, he became the first Seahawk player this season to amass more than 100 yards receiving in a game.
Smith was picked even later, someone who ran so well Carroll compared him to a running back on defense. He was the younger brother of NFL receiver Steve Smith, but a player who had trouble staying healthy both in college and in his first year in the NFL. He has filled in for starter Leroy Hill the past two weeks and played so well that there’s an open question about who might fill that position going forward.
Carroll’s ability to find contributors in the later rounds speaks to his ability to pinpoint which of his former players still had room to grow and blossom. An economist would call it buying low. A scout would call it a diamond in the rough. A coach would simply say it’s knowing his personnel.
Carroll looked for value more than star power. He took the players he knew to be talented, but were being overlooked for one reason or another.
When Carroll arrived in Seattle, the biggest question was how the college coach that routinely collected the cream of the recruiting crop at USC would fare in his return to a league that overtly sought to distribute talent evenly so every team had a chance.
Finding former Trojans who would blossom has been part of the answer.