RENTON – The story of how rookie Michael Bowie came to start at left guard for Seattle against the Saints last Saturday is not only one of personal redemption but also a peek into the culture of the Seahawks and the vagaries of the NFL draft.
It starts with an announcement on Aug. 1, 2012, from Oklahoma State University that Bowie, who had started five games the previous season at left tackle while also emerging as an intriguing NFL prospect, had been kicked off the team for violating team rules.
It continues with a rather mundane NFL news release March 18 detailing the compensatory picks granted to each team for losing free agents the year before.
Seattle got two — pick Nos. 241 and 242 in the seventh round — after the NFL determined it suffered a net loss in free agency the year before for losing quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, safety Atari Bigby, tight end John Carlson and linebacker David Hawthorne while signing quarterback Matt Flynn and defensive lineman Jason Jones.
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And it really kicks into gear with a phone call April 27 from Seahawks scout Ed Dobbs to Mike Barela, the offensive line coach at Northeastern (Okla.) State, a Division II school where Bowie transferred for his final year after being dismissed at Oklahoma State.
The two compensatory picks gave Seattle four in the seventh round. And as the Seahawks’ time on the clock neared, Dobbs asked Barela if Seattle should consider Bowie.
“He asked me, ‘Hey listen, we’ve got four picks in the seventh round. Is Bowie worth one of them?’ ’’ Barela recalled. “It kind of flabbergasted me because I was like, ‘C’mon, Ed, you know he’s not a seventh-round talent.’ And he agreed to that.’’
And then, with the 242nd pick, the Seahawks’ last of the draft, they chose Bowie.
Bowie, taken just 12 picks before the end of the draft, reacted by tweeting “Last. … But not least! God is good!’’
In fact, Bowie understood clearly why he had fallen, saying this week, “I wasn’t surprised because I know why I got picked so low.’’
No one doubted the physical gifts of the 6-foot-4, 332-pounder.
NFL teams did, though, look at his college résumé and raise an eyebrow.
“There is some history there in terms of maturity and discipline and all those kinds of things,’’ Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable said this week when asked why Bowie fell.
A standout at Sand Springs Charles Page High School in Tulsa, Okla., Bowie signed with Oklahoma State as part of its 2009 recruiting class (one of the hosts on his recruiting visit was future Seahawks teammate Russell Okung).
Bowie, though, didn’t get into school due to academic reasons and instead played two seasons at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. Two years later, he again signed with Oklahoma State, and in his first season in 2011 was credited with not allowing a sack in 12 games, a year that finished with the Cowboys beating Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 12-1.
Before the 2012 season, though, Bowie was dismissed by the Cowboys. Exactly what the violation is has never been revealed, though it was apparently not legal in nature.
A week later, Bowie enrolled at Northeastern Oklahoma, where a few high-school teammates were also playing.
Barela said Bowie arrived at Northeastern, located in Tahlequah, “humbled’’ by what had happened.
“He was very grateful,’’ Barela said. “He was here really knowing that he messed up. This was his makeup chance and he was focused on that, and his number one objective was to play well enough to catch the eyes and interest of the NFL.’’
Bowie had a nearly flawless season, not allowing a sack. His background, though, left his NFL stock spottier.
Barela said he heard from “four to six teams’’ before the draft, including one (which he won’t name) that told him it had its fingers crossed Bowie would go unselected.
“They were hoping he would fall through the cracks so they could get him as a free agent because the general manager was not going to use a pick on him based on his background,’’ Barela said.
The Seahawks, though, with the two extra compensatory picks, took a chance, but only after drafting two other offensive linemen (guards Ryan Seymour and Jared Smith) earlier in the seventh round.
“Once you check him out and know that he’s a good kid, you’ve just got to kind of refine him is the best way to say it, and develop him,’’ Cable said. “And that’s what we do here.’’
Bowie stood out from the start of his Seahawks career, with only a shoulder injury suffered in the exhibition season slowing his progress.
“He’s good, man,’’ said right tackle Breno Giacomini. “He’s really good. He’s just an athletic guy, and you can see that he likes the game and wants to play.’’
When Okung and Giacomini were each sidelined with injuries by the third game of the season, Bowie was thrust into a starting role at right tackle, staying there for the next seven games.
When Okung and Giacomini returned, Bowie reverted to inactive status on game days, largely because he had played solely on the right side (fellow rookie Alvin Bailey was used as a backup due to his versatility).
When J.R. Sweezy missed the Arizona game with a concussion, though, Cable decided to give Bowie a shot at right guard, a position he’d never before played in a game.
The Seahawks lost, but Cable liked what he saw. And when the Seahawks earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs, he decided to give Bowie another shot, this time at earning the left guard spot, where Seattle all season had rotated James Carpenter and Paul McQuistan.
And while there might be some in the NFL who would consider it risky to shake up the offensive line heading into the playoffs, Cable didn’t. He said it fit right into the team’s “Always Compete’’ mantra. “We are all about trying to put the best guys out there from week to week,’’ Cable said.
Bowie said he had no idea during the bye week practices that he was essentially auditioning for a starting spot.
“I just thought I was going out there practicing,’’ he said. “Surprised me.’’
The Monday before the divisional playoff game against the Saints, though, Bowie got the word he’d be starting at left guard. He played every snap of Seattle’s 23-15 win.
Given the same Seattle willingness to shake things up that earned Bowie a start last week, Bowie knows his spot is far from cemented. He noted this week he didn’t play in either 49ers game and no one would be surprised if Seattle again altered the lineup based on the matchup.
If Bowie has proved anything this season, though, it’s that the player with the vagabond college past suddenly appears to have a longterm NFL future.
“You always have to have confidence in yourself,’’ he said. “So even when I did slip (in the draft), I knew I had the ability. I just had to be in the right system, the right group of guys around me like the ones I have here.’’
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @bcondotta