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Two-Minute Drill: Bobby Wagner & Earl Thomas - the next Ray Lewis & Ed Reed?
Linebacker Bobby Wagner, who was recently highlighted alongside Earl Thomas and Russell Wilson in ESPN.com's Top 25 players under age 25, is poised for a strong second season as one of the key cogs on a young, athletic Seahawks defense.
Last year, Wagner stepped in and immediately made an impact. He set a Seahawks rookie record with 140 tackles, recorded three picks, 2.0 sacks and four passes defensed while starting 15 of 16 games at middle linebacker for the NFL's fourth-ranked defense (306.2 yards/game) and first-ranked scoring defense (15.3 points/game).
Not bad for a then-22-year-old whose only offer out of high school came from Utah State.
"I feel a billion times more comfortable now compared to last year," Wagner said following the team's first training camp practice of 2013 at Virginia Mason Athletic Center. "I know the defense much better than I did last year coming into it. I know my role as one of the defensive leaders on this team now. I feel good where I'm at."
Wagner credits his progression and maturity from year one to year two to the coaching of linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., as well as to the conversations he's had with All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, and the 24-year-old All-Pro/Pro Bowl free safety Thomas.
"Earl [Thomas] has had a big influence," Wagner said. "He talks to me every day. He's always giving me advice and telling me how he did it when he first got into the League.
"We're trying to be great and we feel like we can be great together. We're trying to be similar to Ed Reed and Ray Lewis."
The Seahawks defensive duo has a long way to go before gaining on that type of greatness, with the multiple Pro Bowl, All-Pro, and Super Bowl honors that Reed and Lewis racked up in their time together with the Baltimore Ravens. But they're certainly on the right track - there's no denying that.
Below is a little bit more from my Thursday conversation with Wagner, including some comments on fellow under-age-25 linebacker K.J. Wright, who ESPN.com tabbed on their list of the 10 next-best players under age 25.
Q: What's it like being back at training camp?
"It's great to be back out here, finally back playing football. Playing in front of our fans, it's fun."
Q: What's it like playing in front of 2,800 crazed fans at VMAC?
"It's just how they are, man. They always come out and support us tremendously. They may not know, but they help us out a lot when they're out there supporting us."
Q: How do you manage the high expectations that surround the club this season?
"You've just got take it one day at a time, to be honest. You can't get too caught up in the hype and everything because you'll lose focus of the bigger picture, which is winning the Super Bowl. So we just take it one day at a time."
Q: What's it like playing alongside fellow under-age-25 linebacker K.J. Wright?
"K.J. - he's another one of those guys that helped me out when I first got here. He's a tremendous player. When I first got here I kind of followed everything K.J. was doing. K.J. is very smart. It's great playing alongside him."
Q: Would you consider K.J. Wright one of the most underrated players on the team?
"Definitely one of the most underrated. People sleep on how great of a linebacker K.J. is. I feel like it's his job to prove everybody wrong, and I know he's going to do that."