This is usually Richard Sherman's specialty.
As the calendar turns to December and debates heat up about NFL postseason awards and honors, Sherman has always been the Seahawks player most likely to campaign vocally for teammates who he feels are deserving of recognition. But with Sherman unfortunately on injured reserve and not in the locker room while media was present Wednesday, linebacker K.J. Wright was more than happy to take up the cause of a teammate who increasingly is finding himself mentioned as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Bobby Wagner has been one of the league's best linebackers since coming into the NFL in 2012, and he's a two-time first-team All-Pro, so he would hardly qualify as an under-the-radar candidate. But in a league where pass rushers tend to dominate DPOY voting, Wagner's teammates want to make sure he is getting the attention he deserves for what might be the best season yet in a career full of outstanding play.
"He's making plays left and right, all over the place," Wright said. "I believe he should (be Defensive Player of the Year)… You've got a guy who led the league in tackles last year, top 5 right now, (he has) interceptions, sacks."
Wright, who has played alongside Wagner since Wagner's rookie season, says Wagner has taken his game to an even higher level this year.
"His mentality all throughout the week, just being on the details, coming in early, leaving late. Each game, I don't believe he's had less than eight tackles. He's just really good. Everything he's doing out there is impressive, and he should definitely be talked about for Player of the Year… We've definitely got to pump this up to get the buzz going."
Wagner is building a very strong case to support any buzz his teammates want to create. With eight more tackles in last week's win, he is now at 100 for the sixth time in as many seasons—Wagner has a whopping 745 tackles in less than six full seasons—which currently ranks second in the league, and his 76 solo tackles are most in the NFL. He's on pace to end up No. 3 on Seattle's career tackles list by the end of the season, currently trailing Joe Nash by 34. And Wagner has been more than just a tackling machine; he also has two interceptions, including a spectacular individual effort last week, six passes defensed, a tackle for loss that resulted in a safety, a fumble return for a touchdown, and 1.5 sacks.
And while Wagner's primary focus is on helping the Seahawks win games, he admits that Player of the Year honors is something he'd like to be able to put on his résumé
"Yeah, I have definitely set it as a goal," he said. "It has always been a goal of mine wanting to win. I mean, you look at all the players that they consider greatest linebackers to play like Ray Lewis, Ken Norton, Brian Urlacher and those guys, and you see what they got to accomplish during their careers, so you want to hope that your career kind of does the same, if not better than that. So it's definitely something I would be honored with but, I feel like as long as I keep doing what I am doing, it will work itself out."
While no one will argue that Wagner is one of the very best at his position, one thing he has working against him is the recent history of the award. Five of the last six DPOY awards have gone to either defensive ends or pass-rushing outside linebackers, with only Carolina's Luke Kuechly bucking that trend in 2013. Voters tend to reward sacks—and for good reason; sacks are game-changing plays—over tackle production, and seven players this season already have double-digit sack totals, including several players on playoff contending teams. That's why Wagner knows that he'll have to not just continue to be a tackling machine, but keep coming up with big plays like last week's interception if he is going to be the first non-pass rusher to win the award since Kuechly.
"I feel like (voters) don't necessarily appreciate tackles as much," he said. "You can't just get it off tackles; you've got to do more. You got to do interceptions, you got to do sacks. A guy can have 10 sacks and he can win it. You definitely have to do more and I feel like the inside linebackers that have won it in the past understand that and have done more. And you know, I can do more, so I'll be fine."
And whether or not Wagner ends up winning that award, there is no doubting that he is having a phenomenal season, one that's importance has only been magnified by the loss of three Pro-Bowl defenders for the season: Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril.
"He's more precise in his pass-drops, he's worked hard at that stuff and he's in throwing lanes," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "His anticipation is the best it's been in terms of breaking back up on stuff thrown underneath him. Last game was a great example of that; there was a number of plays keeping short passes to minimum gains that he is great at. But he has been terrific for years now, and that's why he keeps throwing these numbers up there. The scheme has stayed the same; he's a master of it and he totally owns what we're doing and the adjustments and he anticipates beautifully because of all of that."