A few days after the Seahawks selected Cody Barton in the third round of the 2019 draft, the linebacker received a tablet with Seattle’s playbook installed on it and immediately began studying, knowing that as a middle linebacker, he had better know his stuff when he arrived for rookie minicamp.
“I take pride in being a good communicator, an intelligent football player,” Barton said after the second day of the Seahawks’ rookie minicamp. “So coming in and being able to take over the defense and learning it as best as I could in the days prior to camp was big for me.”
Barton, as well as University of Washington linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, put in enough hard work prior to minicamp that, despite playing with unfamiliar teammates in a new defense, they have been able to effectively run the defense as the middle and weakside linebackers, respectively.
“(Burr-Kirven) and Cody were really impressive throughout the first day to have so much command of what we were doing,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after Friday’s practice. “The communications and their awareness and changing the fronts and doing the things they had to do. They were really good at it today. It’s hard to imagine with even as simple as the installation is, it’s still a lot, and the offense is doing enough formationally that that challenges them. But I kind of tie those guys together, that they’re impressive just they’re going to be able to learn the whole thing. So that means that both Cody, who has played a bunch of spots, and we’ve seen BBK play in and out of the box, both of those guys are going to have great versatility in time.”
Barton and Burr-Kirven were familiar with each other from their days as Pac-12 rivals, and they got to know each other a bit at the NFL Scouting Combine, and now as teammates they’re discovering they make a good on-field pair.
“Playing with him is good,” Barton said. “We both take pride in being intelligent players, so working with him, we kind of put our heads together—just a lot of talking, a lot of communicating on the field and just trying to kind of take over the defense being that gel between the D-line and the DBs.”
Both players were middle linebackers in college, but for now at least Burr-Kirven, last year’s Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year, is playing weakside linebacker.
“It’s pretty different, honestly,” he said. “I was playing Mike at UW, I was playing the true middle spot. I’m playing the Will here, which is a little bit different. So I’m doing a little bit more stuff outside of the box, getting out on receivers, that kind of stuff. So there’s definitely difference. In terms of scheme, it’s not all that different, I’m just doing a different role in it.
“It’s just playing in space more. Mike you’re really in the box, you’re sifting through traffic more, and at the Will you’re more in space, playing out on running backs in the flat, covering receivers a little bit more. So it’s just a little more a space-driven game.”
When it comes to staying in Seattle, Burr-Kirven said, “I couldn’t really have dreamed for anything better than this.” And while he’s the only Washington player on the Seahawks defense, he’s far from being the only one in the NFL, because in the last three drafts alone, the Huskies have had 12 defensive players selected in the draft.
“It’s just a testament to the program at UW,” Burr-Kirven said. “Coach (Chris) Petersen and the whole staff take a lot of pride not only in being a good college football team, but we’re playing at a level a lot of football teams aren’t doing. We’re running complex schemes, we’re trying to make guys ready for the NFL. That’s something you maybe don’t hear about as much, but we want to send guys to the NFL out of UW. That’s something we don’t tell people in the media that much, but it’s a big deal. You want to come out and show that this program is developing guys. A lot of the guys who have come out these last couple of years are guys who weren’t big recruits or anything like that, but when coach Pete gets his hands on players, the way he changes players and grows them, it’s a testament to what they’re doing at UW, and I got real lucky to be a part of it.”
Now that he’s in the NFL, Burr-Kirven will not just learn from Carroll, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and linebacker coach John Glenn, he and Barton will work under two of the league’s best linebackers in Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.
“Obviously those are two of the best linebackers in the NFL today, if not the best, so those are guys you can learn a lot from about not only how to play football, but also about how to conduct yourself as a profession, how to handle the rigors of doing this sport as a profession,” Burr-Kirven said. “I can’t wait for those guys to get in the building and just try to learn everything I can from them.”
Asked what he hopes to learn from Wagner about being an NFL middle linebacker, Barton said, “Everything. I talked about it last night. I’m going to stick to his hip, K.J.’s hip and just see their routine and what works for them and what makes them a great player and just learn as much as I can from those guys.”
Photos from Day 2 of Seattle Seahawks rookie minicamp held on Saturday, May 4, 2019 at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.