The Seahawks kicked off the next phase of their voluntary offseason workout program Monday with Day 1 of organized team activities, a session attended by nearly every healthy player on the roster.
That group included a familiar face in the middle of the defense, a linebacker sporting the No. 54 he made iconic in Seattle over a decade with the Seahawks before spending last season with the Rams.
"It feels good to be back," said Bobby Wagner, who wore No. 45 in Los Angeles. "Nice to be back in 54, nice to back in some beautiful weather. It's cool."
Quarterback Geno Smith added that it was "awesome" to see Wagner back on the practice field and "not in that ugly 45" he wore last season.
"It's great to have him back, such a tremendous leader, obviously a legendary Seahawk and someone that we hold dear, so we're happy to have him," Smith said.
OTAs are still a long way away from the full-pad practices the Seahawks will have in training camp, and defensive players are limited not just in the contact that can happen, but in how they defend—or don't defend—passes while in coverage.
"This time is really for the offense," Wagner said. "We're just kind of in the way."
Yet even so, Wagner was happy to be back in the only place that has ever felt like home aside from Southern California, where he was raised.
"Seattle is always home," he said. "Regardless of the situation, it was always Seattle and California. I was always going to be in Seattle and California, and whenever I'm done, it's going to be Seattle and California. So I'll be around. If you see me, say hello."
While Wagner was gone for only one season, plenty has changed since last offseason when he was released and Russell Wilson was traded. But roster turnover and some schematic changes on defense notwithstanding, it still felt like home to Wagner when he returned this offseason.
"Obviously, the main thing is the main thing, but the feeling is always different," he said. "There's not too many people that I played with when I first got here, but there's some familiar faces still, and I still understand the whole vibe and the whole culture here. So I'm excited to be back."
The Seahawks, of course, are equally excited to get Wagner back.
"Getting Bobby back is a huge deal," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said earlier this month on Seattle Sports 710AM. "He's such a pro, and he just gives us the stability and the background that we need to make sure that we know we're well-coordinated in the games and orchestrated well with his leadership."
The 32-year-old Wagner, who is a six-time first-team All-Pro and a near lock to someday be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, doesn't have much left to prove as a player, but he is still heading into his 12th season feeling like he has plenty left in the tank.
"I feel good," he said. "It's a normal offseason. I played a little bit more basketball, a little more yoga, did some different things to get in better shape. I'm just trying to continue play at a high level and try to perform and show people that it can be done."
Wagner will be trying to get it done in a defense that has changed quite a bit since he left, but the adjustment shouldn't be too difficult, not only because he's an intelligent player who has see just about everything in the NFL, but also because the new version of Seattle's defense features not only some of what he did here before, but also a lot of similar concepts to the ones used by the Rams.
"There's a kind of a combination of a lot of defenses," he said. "There's some stuff we ran in the past, some stuff I got introduced to with the Rams. This is the time to build a defense, so we're trying new looks, new formations, and I'm excited to just learn and get to know everybody again."
So in a lot of ways, Monday and the rest of the offseason workout program has felt like business as usual for Wagner, but in other ways, the time away has changed how he sees things. For starters, Wagner said one of the biggest takeaways from leaving Seattle gaining more appreciation for "Valuing people and relationships, because you kind of think that you'll be around all these people for a long time, then it can be over just like that."
Playing for another team—and coming to Lumen Field as a visitor—also gave Wagner a newfound appreciation for the love fans have for him. From the way staff at the Rams' team hotel in Seattle treated him to his reception on the streets in downtown Seattle to the ovation he received when taking the field for the coin toss before kickoff, Wagner was taken aback by the love he felt when the Rams finished their season at Seattle.
"It was amazing," he said. "I didn't expect it to be like that, to be honest… The (hotel) staff that was there was dope, the people in the morning were cool, then walking out and getting that reception was pretty cool."
Seahawks players participated in the first OTA of the 2023 offseason on May 22 at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Wash.