K.J. Wright: Monday night sensation, but not overnight

Posted Dec 5, 2013

For the past two seasons K.J. Wright has steadily evolved into one of the best pass coverage linebackers in football.

In the week leading up to last Monday night’s muscle-flex of a game between the Seahawks and New Orleans Saints, all of the Seattle angst and all of the national speculation was focused on how, or more specifically who, was going to stop the Saints’ wondrous tight end Jimmy Graham.

Would it be cornerback Richard Sherman, who certainly was strong enough and fast enough to compete against Graham? Or more likely would it be one of the safeties, either Kam Chancellor or Earl Thomas?

To defend against the 6-foot-7 Graham, the Seahawks had to be something like a cross between Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant. He would have to be able to match Graham’s basketball-honed football skills.

“It was something I’ve been working on this entire year,” said Seahawks’ linebacker K.J. Wright, who for most of the night drew the assignment of containing and frustrating Graham. “Since OTAs we’ve been talking about a lot of man-to-man coverages and I took that as a challenge.”

Wright didn’t lobby for the job, at least not in the traditional way. He didn’t pull some Hollywood stunt like going to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and telling him, “I can stop him Coach. I’ve been studying film. I’ve discovered the secret. Just give me the chance.”

But Wright did lobby, in the sense that, for the past two seasons he has steadily evolved into one of the best pass coverage linebackers in football.

In Atlanta, he held the Falcons’ tight end Tony Gonzalez to three catches and 29 yards. And at home, against Tennessee, he silenced Delanie Walker, who had four receptions for 29 yards. That was all the lobbying that was needed.

“I really pride myself on being able to cover and being dependable and they trusted me to do that,” Wright said. “I was really proud that they did that, that they showed that confidence in me.”

On Monday night with the whole football world watching to see who and how Graham would be defended, New Orleans’ quarterback Drew Brees targeted his tight end nine times, but completed only three passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. Graham came into the game with 11 touchdowns and 65 receptions, but he left the game looking like a beaten fighter who somehow managed to finish the bout still standing.

“This was his (Wright’s) best game and it gave him his best chance to be challenged too with the backs and the tight ends,” Head Coach Pete Carroll said at his weekly news conference. “And he did a great job.”

Of course Wright had help, mostly from Chancellor over the top, but on another big stage, the Seahawks linebacker showed he has become one of the league’s elite. Wright was a Monday night sensation, but he’s not an overnight sensation.

“You’ve heard me say this many times that he is unique,” coach Carroll said. “He’s so long. His arm length is so special and he ran real fast also and he was really good behind the ball. He surprised us early on (in his career) and he was so stout about the game. He just could learn quickly and handle a lot of information and utilize all of the stuff and he surprised us again with his covering ability. He’s a very, very good cover guy and he has great instincts about it. There’s been a lot of surprises with K.J. and he’s played great football for us.”

Since Carroll brought up the notion of surprises, I asked Wright if anything about his three years in the league has surprised him.

“Just how dominant I can be at this game,” he said. “I knew coming out of college (Mississippi State) that I was really good, but now I know that I can hang with these guys, the guys that I’ve watched since I was in college and high school. I still have a long ways to go, but I’m headed in the right direction.”

In their 34-7 win over one of the few NFC teams that still had a chance to take away the Seahawks home field advantage for the entire run to the Super Bowl, the Seahawks made New Orleans look average, sub-average really.

It’s getting to the point that after wins the only question left to ask the 11-1 Seahawks is, “Why are you guys so good?”

“There’s just a chemistry here,” Wright said. “Everybody gets along. We talk and hang out, outside of football. We’re confident. We don’t expect to lose. This team is just full of winners. It feels like we’ve been together a really long time now. It’s like now we can look at each other and tell each other what to do without even speaking to each other. We got something really special going on and we’re going to continue with that.”

A fourth-round pick in 2011, the Seahawks way of doing things is the only way Wright knows. But he has talked with some of the team’s veterans like Cliff Avril, who played in Detroit and O’Brien Schofield, who came to Seattle from Arizona, to get a perspective on how unique the Seahawks chemistry is.

“They told me it’s not the same on other teams,” he said. “They said we do things differently. Like at practice they told me that on other teams, some guys might just jog through it. But we run through practice full speed, practicing the way we play. I think that’s what separates us from other teams.

“I mean we’re out there running around and high-fiving each other and just having fun while we’re practicing. The way I feel, if you’re having fun at what you do, you’re going to get real good at it. We really pride ourselves on how we practice. When you have good practice habits, they translate onto the football team.”

As good as he’s played, as much as he’s grown, as dominant as Wright has been, you get the sense he’s just beginning to realize the possibilities ahead of him.

“Right now I’m just enjoying the ride,” he said. “Football’s a short-lived thing and I’m just trying to enjoy it for as long as I can. I mean I’m loving it here. I’d love to end my career here. It’s a great city, a great coaching staff. But now, what we’ve got to focus on, we’ve got to continue this thing and keep playing until that last game in February.”