RENTON — The Seahawks may have settled on a left guard that enhances the offensive line. Michael Bowie, a rookie, seventh-round pick the coaching staff deemed unfit to play most of the final month of the regular season, started instead of James Carpenter against the Saints.
In five of Seattle’s final six regular-season games, Bowie was healthy but listed as inactive.
So it was a bit of a surprise when Seahawks coach Pete Carroll chose to start Bowie and designate Carpenter, a former first-round draft choice, a healthy scratch a few hours before Seattle’s 23-15 win over New Orleans. He likely will remain in the lineup Sunday for the NFC Championship game against the 49ers.
“It was competition. It truly was competition,” Carroll said Monday. “Mike had done a lot of good things. We think he’s a fine athlete. He’s shown poise and smarts in the nine starts that he’s had.”
Still, changing an offensive front after a 13-3 regular season is far from typical — especially when the front is charged with opening holes for one of the league’s best running backs. Marshawn Lynch finished another impressive year (1,257 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns) in line coach Tom Cable’s zone blocking scheme.
The reasons for a shake-up were clear-cut.
Since tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini returned from injury during the last month of the regular season, Carpenter and Paul McQuistan split time at left guard.
After Seattle capped its regular season with a 27-9 win against the Rams and drew a first-round bye in the playoffs, Carroll felt it was time to make a switch.
“With the two weeks, we said, let’s give it a shot and take a look at it. So he started in the bye week (practices) and carried it through. He did a nice job,” Carroll said.
Bowie fits well with Seattle’s stereotype of finding productive players who were overlooked, underestimated or ran afoul earlier in their careers. Before his senior year at Oklahoma State, Bowie was kicked off the team by coach Mike Gundy after violating team rules. He transferred to FCS Northeastern Oklahoma State, a lower-tier FCS school.
In April’s draft, the Seahawks took the 6-foot-4, 334-pounder in the seventh round, to the notice of almost no one. A strong preseason, as well as early injuries to Giacomini and Okung, was Bowie’s opening to the starting lineup.
Bowie started seven games at right tackle after Giacomini underwent surgery on his right knee. Against Arizona in Week 16, he started at right guard when J.R. Sweezy was out with a concussion.
“Michael Bowie’s a tremendous athlete,” quarterback Russell Wilson said Monday. “He moves his feet extremely well. He’s stepped up for us when Breno was out, when Russell Okung was out. His intelligence for the game . . . he really loves the game of football. He has tons of talent.”
“We thought we had some flexibility there,” Carroll said of Bowie. “He’s such a big kid. He could be a tackle. He seems very comfortable at guard, though.”
K.J. Wright nearing return
Carroll said linebacker K.J. Wright, who had surgery five weeks ago to repair a bone broken in his right foot, could return for Sunday’s game. Wright, hurt against San Francisco at Candlestick Park in early December, missed the final three weeks of the regular season and Seattle’s divisional-round win.
“We’re going to take a look at him Wednesday,” Carroll said. “He ran well today and over the weekend. He has a chance. We’re excited about that for him.”