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Wright, as in right

Posted Sep 28, 2011

While Aaron Curry is getting most of the attention in the Seahawks’ swap of starters at strongside linebacker, the play of rookie K.J. Wright also factored into the decision.

As five TV cameras and two dozen reporters were gathered around Aaron Curry in the hallway just outside the Seahawks’ locker room on Wednesday, K.J. Wright sat quietly in his cubicle.

The surprising saga of the rookie linebacker is the easily overlooked aspect of Curry being replaced as the strongside linebacker. Because it was the plays Wright made in his first two NFL games that had as much to do with last week’s decision as those Curry didn’t make.

“K.J. has done very well,” coach Pete Carroll said during his midweek news conference as the Seahawks spent the day preparing for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons at CenturyLink Field.

“He’s been a guy that has just blown us away with how fast he could learn.”

When the club selected Wright with their fourth-round pick in the April NFL Draft, they envisioned him being the backup on the strong side to Curry, the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft. There was Lofa Tatupu, the incumbent starter at middle linebacker, was released in late July. That prompted the move of David Hawthorne from the weakside to the middle, and Wright also moved inside to backup Hawthorne.

That’s also when Wright started raising more than just a few eyebrows. He led the team with eight tackles in the preseason opener. When Hawthorne went down with a sprained knee in the second preseason game, Wright started the final two and had a team-high five tackles in the finale. He also started the regular-season opener against the 49ers in San Francisco and had five more tackles.

“We put him inside to see his instincts behind the football and he showed all of that,” Carroll said. “He played stout, he got off blocks well, he didn’t get knocked around at all. He’s a physical kid at the point of attack and he’s good in pass coverage. So that all showed up.”

After Curry struggled in the Week 2 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh, along with the rest of the team, the coaches decided to see what Wright could do on the strongside – a position that now plays off the line and closer to the middle of the field this season, compared to what Curry was asked to do last season.

“Then we said, ‘OK, let’s take a look at you in another spot,’ and he could pick it up in a couple of days,” Carroll said, shaking his head. “That’s a strong message about a kid’s savvy, instincts and feel for the game.”

Told of Carroll’s comments, Wright smiled before offering, “I guess it’s genes. I’ve always been smart. I’ve always picked up things really fast. So I really pride myself on being a smart player. And when you can learn fast, absorb it and then put it out on the field, that really helps you out as far as playing.”

Reminded that you’re not supposed to be able to make quantum leaps while making the jump from college to the NFL, Wright’s smiled turned to a laugh.

“It’s not easy,” he said. “It’s just something I’ve been blessed with and just something I’m good at doing.”

Then came the clincher as far as the coaches are concerned. “And I’m going to keep doing it,” he said.

Because he’s 6 feet 4, Wright stands out when he’s just standing there. But that also plays to him being able to make plays, because it’s easier to defend what’s easier to see.

“I can see over the line. I can see what the quarterback’s intensions are,” he said. “So my height and my wingspan help me out a whole lot.”

Ah, that wingspan. With his lanky frame come long arms that give him an 80-inch wingspan. And that also helps him wrap his arms around whatever comes his way.

“If I have to reach and grab somebody, I can do that, too,” he said. “It helps a whole lot.”

Wright was not credited with any tackles against the Cardinals on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t make any plays.

“I did pretty solid,” he said. “I did my job.”

Carroll acknowledged the obvious when asked about the flip side of the decision to go with Wright.

“He’s frustrated, and rightfully so,” Carroll said of Curry. “I don’t blame him one bit for being frustrated.”

But that doesn’t change the fact that the move had as much to do with Wright as it did with Curry.

“He’s a competitive kid,” Carroll said of Wright, who continues to work with the No. 1 defense in practice. “Given the chances, he’s done very well with everything we’ve asked him to do. So he’s not going to back down and open up the door for somebody to take his spot is how he probably looks at it at this point.”

For his part, Wright is saying the right things.

“I’ve just got to keep it going,” he said. “I’m just approaching it like I always have, which is to just come out here and work hard and just to improve every day. I just have to go out there and do my best, so when I get out there I’m going to play hard and play well.”

The more Wright plays – and the more positions he plays – the more valuable he becomes.

“We needed him to come in and help us and he did, and he can play more than one spot,” Carroll said. “Right now, he’s becoming one of the real flexible guys in our system – as a rookie. So it’s real exciting.”

Wright also has made plays on special teams, with two coverage tackles in the game against the Steelers.

“So it’s just ‘and, and, and,’ ” Carroll said of Wright’s multiple contributions from multiple spots. “I think he’s a great pick for us.”