Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas look to Ray Lewis, Ed Reed for Super Bowl success

Posted Jan 31, 2014

The connection between middle linebacker and free safety is crucial to operating an effective defense. Bobby Wagner and Earl Thomas have modeled their play after two of the game's best.

"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."

Those were the words of newly-minted second-year linebacker Bobby Wagner back on July 25, 2013, on his budding relationship with Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas. They came on the very first day of Seahawks training camp at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center, as Wagner and the Seahawks were relishing in a long-awaited return to the practice field.

The club was still carrying the bad taste of a 2012 last-second divisional playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons, forced to play spectator for the remainder of the postseason as the linebacker Lewis, free safety Reed and their Baltimore Ravens battled the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. The Ravens would secure the victory, the second Super Bowl championship for the seasoned-veteran Lewis and first for the 12-year pro Reed.

Fast-forward 190 days to the present, where Wagner and Thomas rest on the edge of Super Bowl XLVIII against the Denver Broncos on Feb. 2 at East Rutherford, New Jersey's MetLife Stadium. It's an eerily similar situation their role models Lewis and Reed were in just one season ago - their cleats on the doorstep of the game's biggest stage.

"They just worked together as a team," Wagner said this past week of his and Thomas' affinity for the Ravens' Lewis and Reed. "Ray [Lewis] kind of ran the defense, the front seven, and Ed Reed ran the back four. It was just about having the chemistry between the two."

The 13-time Pro Bowler and 10-time All-Pro selection Lewis has since retired from the game, while the nine-time Pro Bowler and eight-time All-Pro selection Reed took his talents to the Houston Texans, and eventually, the New York Jets. Their pairing was pivotal to the Ravens' Super Bowl success last season, and it's one the fast, physical, and hard-hitting tandem of Wagner and Thomas have looked to replicate.

"When you look at a team you always look for reasons why they're so successful," Thomas said of last year's Super Bowl winners. "I think the 'Mike' linebacker and the free safety are the two main quarterback positions of the defense. We definitely have that same connection, that same one that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed had. And that's why they were so successful winning championships."

That connection between Wagner and Thomas has carried the Seahawks defense to the top of the League, where they hold the No. 1 rank in total defense (273.6 yds/gm), passing defense (172.0 yds/gm), scoring defense (14.4 pts/gm), interceptions (28) and takeaways (39). The duo's combined 225 tackles account for more than 21 percent of the team's total. And Wagner's whopping 15 takedowns in the NFC Championship against the Niners two weekends ago marked the second-best total in Seahawks postseason history.

"He's grown so much," Thomas said of Wagner. "He's learned how to harness that speed. This guy is one of the most athletic guys we have on this team and just to see him run from sideline to sideline is special.

"You can't coach speed," Thomas emphasized. "That's what separates even me - speed. Speed kills. And this guy has learned to get off blocks, use his arms more, and really have that feel and rhythm. He's hitting that constantly now. He's a more consistent, reliable, and impact football player."

Coach Pete Carroll has also taken note of Wagner's sound play over the second half of the season. Last week, Carroll noted the Utah State product has taken complete command of the team's defensive calls and adjustments.

Wagner credits much of his year-over-year improvement back to Thomas, the team's Pro Bowl/All-Pro fourth-year player out of Texas whose all-in, all-the-time attitude is as contagious as his fiery personality on the field.

"Whether it's a practice or a walk-through he treats it like it's a game," Wagner said of Thomas. "You're going to play how you practice, so if you practice how you play in the game, every single day you're going to get better.

"I think he's one of the best safeties in the game, and I'm just trying to be one of the best linebackers in the game," Wagner summed. "It's just a process."

It's a process Wagner and Thomas are hoping will culminate this Sunday akin to the way their guides Lewis and Reed ended their 2012 campaign - with the hoisting of the Lombari Trophy.