K.J. Wright opened his press conference Thursday with a tongue-in-cheek introduction.
"My name is K.J. Wright from Olive Branch, Mississippi," Wright said. "This is my eighth year here. I graduated from Mississippi State and I am glad to be back. Very glad."
For Wright, who missed the Seahawks' first six games while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery he had in August, that month-and-a-half layoff felt particularly long because it was something he has never experienced as an NFL player. In his first seven seasons, Wright missed only five games, and only missed one in the past four seasons, having to sit out a game last year because of a concussion.
Wright said the hardest part of that long layoff was "just to watch it and not to be able to travel. I couldn't travel to London, I couldn't go to Arizona, Chicago—I just had to stay back and watch it. Just the daily grind, it's more of a mental and physical grind when you do get hurt because especially somebody in my position, you're not used to missing games and we've just got to rehab all day, all night and you've got to watch it. That's tough. It's over now. Let's hope I stay healthy and be good to go the rest of the year."
And don't get Wright wrong, he loves spending time with his family, but after missing the first six games of the season, the Pro-Bowl weakside linebacker is thrilled to be getting on a plane with his teammates this week to play in Detroit on Sunday.
So far this season, Wright has stayed behind when the Seahawks traveled—team doctors and athletic trainers prefer an injured player not travel because flying can increase inflammation—meaning he spent his Sundays for those four road games the same way most fans would, watching the game on T.V. with friends or family.
Wright said he watched the first two games at the home of former Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril, and the last two at home with his wife and son. And perhaps in a sign of how excited he is to be back, Wright managed to work a playful shot in at longtime teammate Bobby Wagner while talking about his time off.
"The last two games I was at home, and my wife is sitting there—we're watching the game together—she's asking questions," Wright said. "And I'm like, 'Babe, I really don't feel like telling you what happened on that play. Yes, Bobby did mess up, but I don't feel like going into the ins and outs about it.'"
While Wright is excited to be back and the Seahawks are obviously happy to add a player of his caliber back into the lineup, he has also been encouraged by what he has seen from a defense that currently ranks sixth in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.
"I love it," Wright said. "I love it, man. It's been fun watching these guys. It's been fun watching guys just grow and seeing all these guys make plays. B-Mac (Bradley McDougald) is outstanding, just seeing Frank (Clark) have an All-Pro season so far, just all these takeaways. I believe we may be top five in takeaways so these guys have been doing well so far. Shout-out to (Austin) Calitro for stepping up, Shaquem (Griffin), Mychal Kendricks, (Barkevious) Mingo—all those guys stepped up in my absence and those guys did a tremendous job as well."
Like Wright, tight end Ed Dickson is expected to make his 2018 debut this weekend. A free-agent addition this offseason, Dickson missed training camp with a couple different soft-tissue injuries, and as a result he opened the year on the non-football injury list, meaning he had to sit out the first six games.
And like Wright, the silver lining for Dickson was a chance for more family time—he has two young children, ages 8 and 5. But also like Wright, Dickson has been very durable, meaning a long injury absence felt foreign and uncomfortable. In his first eight seasons, Dickson missed only four games, and played in every game over the past five seasons.
"It feels good," Dickson said prior to Thursday's practice. "To have to sit back and watch your brothers go to war, it's kind of hard but it teaches you some things at my old age, the patience and stuff like that but I'm excited to be back. I'm excited to contribute with the team, and whatever my role is, I'm going to grasp it and do what I've got to do."
For Dickson, it was particularly tough to be injured this season considering this is his first year in Seattle, meaning he hasn't been able to show his coaches or teammates on the field why he was a player the team pursued in free agency.
"I haven't been around these guys and they haven't seen me play," Dickson said. "They haven't seen me go to battle, but it's familiar. Any place you're going to go, you've got to insert yourself and show them that you've got their back and they can count on me. I don't know how big my role is or small my role is going to be, but I'm competing to win. We're in the thick of things. We're going at the playoff shot. One game at a time, Coach talks about it all the time so just me being out there and me contributing, I'm happy with that role."
And because Dickson has spent so much time rehabbing and working towards this return, his injuries were not serious enough to keep him from running hard in recent weeks, he feels like he's in great shape despite missing six games.
"I feel like I'm in the best shape that I've been in, in probably nine years," he said. "You give a player like myself time to lift and run and mentally get prepared, I feel like I might be in the best shape of any player in the NFL right now. I've just got to go out there and prove it. Game shape is different than just training shape so I know I've got to get back in that game shape and get on the same page with my quarterback and the rest of the offensive guys, but I take every opportunity I can, every minute I can in the day to try to get that."
Photos from Thursday's practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in preparation for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.