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Originally published August 5, 2013 at 6:40 PM | Page modified August 6, 2013 at 10:49 PM

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LB Mike Morgan poised for a breakthrough on Seahawks’ defense

Morgan has been one of the fastest-rising players in training camp, taking advantage of his time with the first unit thanks to a few injuries.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thursday

Seahawks @ Chargers,

7 p.m., Ch. 13

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Great story and I will be watching him closely on Thursday. MORE
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RENTON — If he hadn’t been there for almost every step of the journey, Seahawks linebacker coach Ken Norton Jr. might not recognize Mike Morgan these days.

The Morgan that Norton sees now, though, is what Norton always envisioned when he stood in Morgan’s house in Dallas roughly eight years ago and began convincing him to become a USC Trojan.

Then, Morgan was a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder whose athleticism and frame had college recruiters convinced he could someday be a great outside linebacker or defensive end.

Today, Morgan tips the scales at 241 pounds, and with every practice is getting closer to becoming known as another unearthed Seahawk gem.

“He has really grown up,’’ says Norton, who became Seattle’s linebackers coach in 2010, following Pete Carroll north from Los Angeles, where he was USC’s linebackers coach.

Morgan has been one of the fastest-rising players in training camp, taking advantage of the absence of injured players Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons to often work with the first unit at the LEO, or rush end spot, as well as strongside linebacker.

“Mike is doing great,’’ Carroll said on Sunday, noting Morgan’s ability to play the weakside linebacker spot as well as contribute on special teams. “It makes him a strong bid for making the team because he does so much.’’

Morgan has been with the Seahawks the last two seasons, even starting against the Jets a year ago in place of the injured K.J. Wright.

Morgan, though, was hardly considered a certainty to make the team again entering the offseason, especially when the Seahawks began experimenting with Bruce Irvin and Avril at linebacker.

Morgan responded by changing his diet and workout regimen and adding 15 pounds. “He’s been a lot more physical this year,’’ Norton said.

Norton coached Morgan for four years at USC. As a junior in 2009, Morgan led the Trojans with 13 tackles for a loss, and an NFL career looked like a pretty sure thing.

In 2010, though, Lane Kiffin took over for Carroll, with his father Monte taking over as defensive coordinator and bringing in elements of his famed Tampa 2 defense to the Trojans.

The change didn’t help Morgan, who finished with just three tackles for a loss and 0.5 sacks, and found himself unwanted in the NFL draft.

“Sometimes certain schemes that players are in, they are not able to show their stuff,’’ Norton said. “But I knew he knew us and was quite comfortable with us, and I thought there was no doubt he could help us in some form.’’

Seattle had taken one of Morgan’s teammates, fellow linebacker Malcom Smith, in the seventh round of that year’s draft, and Morgan said it was an easy decision to sign with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent, especially considering 2011 was the year of the lockout, which meant a shortened offseason and a small window for players to learn systems.

“I knew I had to go somewhere where I was familiar with the system,” he said, “and this system was one that I knew everything, and I knew the coaches.”

In fact, he’d known Norton since his junior year in high school. A former star for the Dallas Cowboys, Norton was assigned Morgan’s area in recruiting as an assistant at USC. Norton jokes that Morgan was too young to know who he was but “his parents did.’’

Now it’s Morgan making himself known. He’s listed as the backup to Avril at right defensive end for Thursday’s preseason opener against the Chargers. With Avril still sidelined, that essentially makes Morgan a starter, at least for the moment.

“You are going to get a lot of him this game,’’ Norton said. “With Clemons being down, Avril being down, you are going to get a big dose of Michael Morgan and he’s going to have a chance to really show everyone his improvement and who he is now.’’

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