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Keeping an eye on K.J. Wright
The Seahawks’ first three OTA sessions have been an exercise in trying to focus on many players but being unable to take your eyes off one.
And that one would be No. 50, third-year linebacker K.J. Wright.
It shouldn’t be surprising because of what Wright has done in his first two seasons since being selected in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft – as well as the impossible to overlook fact that he is 6 feet 4, and plays even longer because of his almost 35-inch arms.
Forced to start the opener of his rookie season because of an injury to then-middle linebacker David Hawthorne, Wright played well enough that the coaches decided he needed to play more. Wright then replaced Aaron Curry, the fourth pick overall in the 2010 draft, on the strong side and played well enough that Curry was traded to the Oakland Raiders in October.
In 12 starts as a rookie, Wright produced 61 tackles, two sacks and also forced one fumble and recovered another.
In his first full season as a starter, Wright finished second on the team with 96 tackles during the 2012 regular season – also adding his first NFL interception – and during the postseason with 16.
If his performance during the first week of OTAs is any indication, Wright has just begun to show everything he can do.
On the first three snaps of Monday’s 7-on-7 drill, Wright and the ball arrived at the receiver in the same blink. On Tuesday, a Russell Wilson pass was heading toward tight end Zach Miller with first-down-and-then-some written all over it – until Wright deflected it with a flick on one of those long arms.
“A 5-11 guy doesn’t make that play,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said.
Thursday, it was another trio of passes that Wright could have, well, we’ll let him explain what would have happened if contact were allowed in OTAs.
“Ah man, if it had been live it would have been bad for all those guys,” Wright said through a smile after the session that began in bright sunshine but ended in wind-driven rain along the shores of Lake Washington.
There are a couple of reasons for Wright being in the right place so often.
First, he’s entering his third season. “This is my third year and I’ve got a real good feel for football,” Wright said. “I’m really anticipating things, and I’m usually right when I make those moves.”
Then, there is switch from the strong side to the weak side, where free agent Leroy Hill started the past two seasons.
“I’ve got a new position, but it’s coming natural to me,” said Wright, who then added of his role in the defense used by former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, “It’s not that much different, because in Gus’ scheme I was always off the ball and dropping into coverage also. So it’s pretty much the same.”
But as Wright already has shown, he’ll make plays wherever he lines up.
Quinn is new to all this Wright stuff because he was the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida the past two seasons after being the Seahawks’ defensive line coach in 2009-10.
“I saw him on tape and knew he was a really good player,” Quinn said. “But you have to be out there on the field to get a feel for his size, his length, his speed, the way he can cover ground. So on consecutive days, I saw him cover, bat balls down. He’s a guy I’ve really been impressed with.”
But there’s more to Wright’s game than those long limbs that allow him to bat down passes and wrap up ball carriers.
“On top of the physical skills, K.J. is totally in tune mentally,” Quinn said.
That’s also been obvious during the OTA sessions, as Wright and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner have made checks and realigned those in front of them because of something they’ve seen – or anticipated – from the offensive formation.
“Bobby’s smart, and I’m smart, too,” Wright said. “We tell each other what we’re thinking before the play happens and that’s why you see that we’re always on it.”
Wagner, a second-round pick last year, joined Terry Beeson (1977) and Lofa Tatupu (2005) as the only rookies in franchise history to lead the team in tackles.
“Those two guys really kind of feed off each other,” Quinn said.
All of which is feeding everyone’s anticipation of what Wright’s third season might bring, and what that will mean to a defense that allowed the fewest points in the league and ranked fourth in average yards allowed last season.
“K.J. is one who has totally jumped out to me,” Quinn said. “Really, the effort and the attention to detail, I’ve really been pleased with. And not just from K.J., but from all of the linebackers.”
Said Wright, “I’m really excited. It could be real special. Hopefully this will be a special season and I make a lot of plays out there.”
Make that, continue to make a lot of plays out there.