Bobby Wagner and his Seahawks teammates arrived at the VMAC for the start of training camp Tuesday, but instead of strapping on cleats and taking the field, the All-Pro linebacker took a COVID-19 test and went home where he would later take part in a virtual team meeting.
The build up to the 2020 NFL season is underway in 32 NFL cities, but it's anything but business as usual, as Wagner detailed Wednesday in a video press conference.
"Obviously it's a lot different," Wagner said. "Normally we'd be in the building, I'd be around the guys. Obviously we'd be practicing, things of that nature. Basically we've just been tested. Testing and zoom calls, kind of similar to what we did in the offseason. So a lot of it is just getting understanding about COVID, getting tested and making sure everybody is being smart and disciplined, because we'll have to be to get this thing done."
As a leader, Wagner knows part of his job is to not only help his teammates get ready for a football season, but to remind young players that their actions during a pandemic can have consequences on not just their teammates but their families.
"This year is going to be a year that we've never experienced before, especially for rookies," he said. "The rookies don't even know what to expect going in and it's going to be nothing like any of us has seen before. So I think discipline is going be the biggest thing—understanding we're not going to be able to do the things that we normally do. And we have to think about not just ourselves, but our families, other people's families and understand if we do something reckless or do something that goes against what we're trying to do, it doesn't just affect you and your family, it affects everybody else. So we just got to be really smart about it, understand the task at hand, the challenge at hand, and really think about others. This is a time to really think about others"
Wagner reiterated that it's up to players to hold each other responsible.
"It's players being on top of players, understanding that it's going to take a lot of discipline to get this done, and really being on top of everybody, and really just keep pushing that message forward," he said. "We're not going to be able to go and do the things that we do. You know, luckily in Seattle so there's not really any clubs or things of that nature to go out to, but just understanding like you need to be more conscious of your surroundings, you have to really be mindful of who you trust as far as what are they doing outside of the building. You have to earn your trust in this situation. You've just got to make sure you're mindful of the guys around you, mindful of the people that you keep around you, and understand what at stake. There's a lot at stake, and we want everybody to be healthy."
From Monaco To Teammates
Wagner and safety Jamal Adams are both Jordan brand sponsored athletes, which one offseason led to both being in Monaco for an event (as one does in the offseason when you're team Jordan), and in conversation the two All-Pros talked about what it might be like to be teammates. That became a reality on Saturday when Adams was acquired in a trade with the Jets, news that was obviously exciting for Wagner.
"I'm very excited for him," Wagner said. "We're both part of brand Jordan, so we were down in Monaco one year, and we were just talking about possibility of playing together," Wagner said. "I've always admired his game from afar, likewise with mine. So excited to have him on the team, excited that we're able to get that going. As far as his helping me, obviously it's another playmaker on the field, another guy that you have to respect, so he'll get a little bit of attention too… Jamal's an amazing player. I've watched him from afar, and he brings a lot of energy, a lot of passion to the game, and I'm excited to have him on our team."
As for how Adams will fit into a new defense, Wagner has no concerns that the versatile safety will have no trouble adjusting to what Seattle does.
"I don't think the defense needs to change," Wagner said. "He's going to come in and fit in just fine. A lot of times there's certain defenses where we have the safety come into the box, which I think he's very comfortable in; a lot of times we have a safety come in and blitz, which he's very comfortable, so there's a lot of things that we do that really complements his game. There's a lot of things that we do that we feel can bring another element out of his game. So I think this defense should be really fun for him."
The Conversations Continue
The last time Wagner talked to the media, the conversation was almost entirely focused on social justice issues as protests had just begun around the country following the killing of George Floyd. Nearly two months later, protests continue around the country and the Black Lives Matter movement remains at the forefront, which is why Wagner said those conversations about racism have not slowed down among teammates, though at this point he said no plan has been formed in terms of any demonstrations the team might make this year.
"We've had a lot of conversations, because since we spoke, it hasn't really calmed down," Wagner said. "There's still videos popping up every day of police brutality, there's still things popping up every day. The conversations around everything have been great. I think a lot of people are more conscious of things, but it hasn't really changed that much… There's so much going on, you have the social justice, police brutality, things of that nature, and you throw COVID on there as well. There's a lot of guys still trying to figure out how are they going to go about things with this going on. So I think there's a lot to figure out, a lot to plan around, and I think we're going to figure that out as we go."
"I'm Happy To See The Love That HBCUs Have Gotten"
Wagner wore a HBCU Foundation sweatshirt during his video press conference to represent an organization he has supported recently, including by donating money as the Seahawks' 2019 nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. Wagner also wore sweatshirts of various HBCUs throughout the season on road trips to try to shine more light on those schools, so he is encouraged by a recent trend of more high-profile athletes committing to or seriously considering HBCUs. Makur Maker, one of the top basketball recruits in the country, recently chose Howard over traditional basketball powers like Kentucky and UCLA, while Nate Tabor picked Norfolk State over a number of bigger college basketball programs. In football, five-star recruit Korey Foreman, the No. 1 recruit in the country by some rankings, has Howard on a list of final schools that also includes Alabama, Georgia, Oregon, USC, Clemson and LSU.
"I think is very important, because there's a history there," Wagner said. "There used to be a lot of black athletes that chose those schools and, you know, we kind of went away from that. So to see that come full circle and guys starting to consider it. I think it's amazing. For myself, when I was younger—I'm from California—there wasn't too many HBCUs out there that was visible, and so I didn't really learn about it until I actually got to Utah State. A lot of it is just visibility, a lot of it is just knowledge, understanding that it's out there, understanding this option. So I'm happy to see the love that HBCUs have gotten these last few months."
Another Year In The Top 100
Wagner was named to the NFL Network's Top 100 Players list for the fourth straight year and fifth time in his career, checking in at No. 13 on this year's list. That's an honor the five-time first-team All-Pro doesn't take lightly since the Top 100 is voted on by players.
"I'm always grateful, especially being acknowledged by your peers and seeing the way your peers respect you and respect the way you play the game," he said. "…I'm always grateful for my peers to respect the way I play the game. Heading into Year 9, I'm not done. I have a lot more left, and I'm excited to get back out there and prove a lot of people wrong."
Seahawks coaches, veteran players and some of the team's newest additions arrived at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Tuesday, July 28th for pre-entry COVID testing. Seahawks Training Camp is presented by Safeway.