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A dare-to-dream weekend
We all saw what the speed of Earl Thomas and Chris Clemons brought to the Seahawks’ defense two years ago.
Boiled down to the simplest statistical terms, it was a team-high five interceptions (by Thomas, a rookie free safety) and a club-leading 11 sacks (by Clemons, who had been acquired in an offseason trade).
Then there was the infusion of length last season provide by 6-foot-3 strong safety Kam Chancellor; cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, who are 6-4 and 6-3; and 6-4 strongside linebacker K.J. Wright. Each was in his first season as a starter, all delivered unique contributions to the NFL’s ninth-ranked defense – as this quartet ranked 2-7-8-5 on the team in tackles, led by Chancellor’s 94; combined for 14 of the Seahawks’ 22 interceptions, including Browner’s team-leading six; and also had 54 passes defensed.
Now come Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner, this year’s first- and second-round draft choices who are turning the team’s three-day minicamp into a dare-to-dream exercise as you ponder just what their speed and length can add to the defense’s already impressive mix of flashing arms and legs.
“First and foremost, it’s the speed. We really like their speed,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said Saturday, following the second of three two-hour practices in this rookie minicamp. “We’re excited about both those guys’ progress.”
Irvin arrived in the first-round of the draft with a defined role, if not a “starting” one. The pass-rushing end from West Virginia will play opposite Clemons in passing situations – although Irvin is filling Clemons’ spot at the “Leo” end in this rookie minicamp. Wagner followed in the second round, and the linebacker from Utah State also fills a need because leading tackler and middle linebacker David Hawthorne signed with the New Orleans Saints in free agency. That’s where Wagner is lining up, but he will compete for the starting job with veteran free-agent addition Barrett Ruud.
They are fast – the 248-pound Irvin running the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine; the 241-pound Wagner running a 4.47 at his Pro Day workout after sitting out the combine because he had pneumonia.
They are long – the 6-3 Irvin with his 33-inch arms; the 6-foot Wagner compensating for his lack of prototypical heights with 32½-inch arms.
They are athletic – Irvin also running the 20-yard shuttle at the combine in 4.03 seconds; Wagner also popping a 39½-inch vertical and 11-foot broad jump at his Pro Day.
They were productive – Irvin collecting 22.5 sacks in two seasons at West Virginia; Wagner posting 147, 133 and 115 tackles the past three seasons at Utah State.
They are now the latest players with speed, length and athleticism to join a Seahawks defense that already featured a lot of all three.
Because of the chiseled features on his lean face, and the fact that he wears his dreads pulled back into bunch, Irvin looks to be moving – quickly – even when he just standing there.
“We’re going to just let him go and let him play fast,” defensive line coach Todd Wash said. “Because that’s what he is. He’s extremely, extremely fast.
“We’re extremely physical up front in what we had this past season. We feel very comfortable with every one of the guys we’ve got. We just needed to increase the speed on third down. So we’re very excited about that we got.”
As for Irvin, he has said several times since being drafted on April 26 that he just likes to run. The latest came after Friday’s practice.
“If the play is 20 or 30 yards downfield, I just love to run so much that I’m going to chase it down,” he offered with a smile. “I might not have a chance to get him, but I just love to run. That’s what I do. I have great closing speed and I look forward to showing that more often.”
Wagner had what Bradley called a solid outing Friday, only to pickup his game on Saturday. He appeared to be a step ahead of the other linebackers in the individual drills, and in the full-team portions of practice he was quick off blocks and even quicker to the hole.
“I felt like I understood the plays more. I knew what was coming at me. I knew where I had to drop a little bit better,” Wagner said, contrasting his Friday to his Saturday. “I had time to go on the field, practice it and go back and look at it on film. So I felt a little bit more comfortable today.”
Linebackers coach Ken Norton, Jr. was the first to see something special in Wright last year, and the former Pro Bowl linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers already likes what he’s seeing from Wagner.
“I’m really excited about him,” Norton said. “First thing you’re looking at: Can he run? Absolutely. Does he look the part? Absolutely. Is he strong and can he run the huddle? Absolutely.
“So we’re very happy with our first impression. It’s very early. But we’re very happy with what we see so far.”
Norton was then asked about Wagner’s height, and he pointed out that this draft class came up short on linebackers who were 6-3 and 6-4.
“But when it comes down to can he run, can he hit, can he fit into our profile and what we do best here? That’s absolutely,” Norton said. “He certainly looks the part, he acts the part and he works the part.”
And Wagner and Irvin look like two more needed parts to the Seahawks’ still-improving defense.