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With Bobby Wagner out, the Seahawks are turning to K.J. Wright
It was the morning after the first minicamp practice in K.J. Wright’s rookie season, and Pete Carroll let his imagine run all the way to the office of linebackers coach Ken Norton.
“I remember going to Kenny and saying, ‘Could you imagine if he was ever our Mike (middle) linebacker? He’d be such a monster in there,’ ” the Seahawks’ fifth-year coach recalled Wednesday of that 2011 conversation with Norton.
“We threw him in there and he showed that he had great instincts,” Carroll said. “He just has an unusual body type for that position, but his mind and his savvy and his instincts were well beyond any kind of restrictions.”
Or as Norton put it, “His rookie year, when he knew nothing, he was starting against San Francisco, on the road. And he did a very, very fine job. So at this point now, later in his career, we won’t miss a beat.”
And that’s good, because now it’s Bobby Wagner, the middle linebacker and leading tackler that replaced Hawthorne in 2012, who can’t play after sprained a toe in Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys. So once again, the Seahawks are leaning on Wright’s versatility as they prepare for this week’s game against the Rams in St. Louis.
“K.J. is a guy that we know is very capable of stepping in and doing a fantastic job,” Norton said after Wednesday’s practice when asked about Wright – who also started two games in the middle last season when Wagner was out with a sprained ankle.
And who steps in on the weak side for Wright? How about Malcolm Smith, the MVP from the Seahawks’ 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII? Smith started the first three games this season, but stepped out when Bruce Irvin was able to step back in the past two games. Read
|K.J. IN THE MIDDLE|
With Bobby Wagner sidelined because of a toe injury, K.J. Wright will slide to middle linebacker for the Seahawks’ game against the Rams on Sunday. It will be Wright’s fourth start in the middle, and here’s a look at how he did in the other three games:: Read
So Sunday, it will be Wright flanked by Smith and Irvin as the Seahawks play their first game of the season against one of their NFC West rivals.
“We’re in a very, very good position,” Norton said of the depth at the position he played at a Pro Bowl and Super Bowl-winning level in the NFL and now coaches for the Seahawks. “That’s what you work for and that’s what you bring the right guys in for, is times like this. That’s why depth is so important.
“We’ve got the right guys for it and they’ve proven they can play at a very high level.”
Or in this case, make that the Wright guy.
“In college, K.J. played behind the ball. He was a Will (weak side) linebacker in college,” Norton said when asked what he initially saw when Wright was coming out of Mississippi State. “So he was very instinctive, always around the ball. He ran really hard. And he was extremely smart.
“He knows every position. He knows where the outside linebackers go. He knows where the inside linebackers go. He knows where the nose guard is supposed to be. So for him, it’s a very natural fit. He is the middle linebacker. He knows where everybody is. So that’s what the guy in the middle does. He’s the heartbeat. So this is a very natural place for him to be.”
And Wright seemed almost amused when he found himself the guy in middle in the locker room before practice, surrounded by a group of reporters.
“Mike linebacker is fine with me. I’ve done it before. It’s something that’s not new to me at all,” Wright said. “I hate to see Bobby go down, but guys have got to step up and I believe we’re going to handle it just fine. Malcolm will step in at the Will and we’ll get rolling.”
But there’s got to be more to making a move like this than Wright makes it seem.
“It’s not a big deal whenever I’m at Mike linebacker,” Wright said. “You’ve just got to get guys lined up. That’s it.”
“There’s no difference at all,” Wright said. “The only thing between the Mike and the Will is sometimes the Mike goes to the weak side – weak hook, strong hook. They’re real similar. The Mike’s just got to make the calls to get guys lined up.”
And that’s something Wright initially did when Wagner arrived as the rookie middle linebacker in 2012.
Replacing Wagner will not be easy. He leads the team with 50 tackles – 13 more than strong safety Kam Chancellor and 16 more than Wright. But it would be a lot more difficult if the Seahawks’ didn’t have Wright – who has started at each of the linebacker spots.
“We hate to lose Bobby. He’s been a great player for us and a great leader and has been a big factor in everything that we’ve done,” Carroll said. “But K.J. is one of our favorite guys because of all the versatility that he has. So we maintain leadership and a voice in the huddle.
“We have a really classy guy stepping in who knows what he’s doing.” Read