With Seahawks training camp kicking off later this month, Seahawks.com is taking a look at 10 of the most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2023 season. So far, we've looked at special teams, tight end, defensive line, and running back, and today we take a look at linebacker and what Bobby Wagner's return means to the defense. Check back Monday when we focus on the competition for starting jobs on the interior offensive line.
Key Linebacker Additions: LB Bobby Wagner (free agency), LB Devin Bush (free agency), OLB Derick Hall (draft).
Key Linebacker Departures: LB Cody Barton (signed with Commanders), OLB Bruce Irvin (unsigned free agent).
Twice last season, the Seahawks beat the Los Angeles Rams, with the second victory helping secure a playoff berth in Week 18.
Yet as much as the Seahawks enjoyed beating an NFC West opponent, one element of those games felt a little, well, odd. Bobby Wagner, who built a Hall of Fame resume over a decade in Seattle, spent last year with the Rams, his first season not in a Seahawks uniform.
And after the Rams released Wagner this offseason in a salary cap-related move, it was almost a no-brainer for the Seahawks and one of the best players in franchise history to reunite.
It took a bit of time for the deal to come together, but eventually, with multiple players, led by 2022 captain Quandre Diggs, pestering Pete Carroll and John Schneider about bringing Wagner back, the deal got done.
"It's such a win-win for everybody," Carroll said in March. "Because Bobby wasn't here for a year, it doesn't have anything to do with our relationship, except for he played a great game against us down there, and it was good to get him back on our side. Over the years that we spent together, there's a real relationship that's a life-long relationship. Not just with me, but with people around the organization, with the people in the area, the fans. He lives in Seattle, his family's there, he raised his kids there. It was just a logical thing for us to work out. So in Bobby's mind and my mind and in John(Schneider's), we just had to get through it. It just took some time to get it done. But there was really never any thought that we weren't going to get it done in my mind."
While the move to bring Wagner back is a very popular one with fans and teammates alike, this wasn't a signing made for sentimental reasons. Wagner played very well in his one season in L.A. earning second-team All-Pro honors, and the Seahawks had a need at inside linebacker with Cody Barton leaving in free agency and with Jordyn Brooks' status for the start of the season unknown due to an ACL injury that occurred late last season.
The hope is that Brooks will be back for Seattle's opener against the Rams, but by adding Wagner and Devin Bush, a former first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Seahawks feel good about that position group heading into camp, even if Brooks needs more time to recover.
"I think it's an exciting room when Jordyn gets back out there with the fellas," Carroll said. "Devin is an exciting football player. Runs really well, versatile, all over the place—sideline to sideline guy. We got Bobby in the building so that feels good, stature wise, and leadership wise and production. He had a terrific season last year. And our younger guys, getting Jon Rhattigan back. Jon is really back to full speed and bigger than he's ever been. We're anxious to see him. And Vi Jones is 10 pounds heavier and he's ready to go. And he's much more connected to the position because it was a little bit of a transition for him. It's a very good group. We'll get a lot of play out of that and we'll get a lot of special teams out of that group too."
As for Brooks' recovery, reports from Carroll—and Brooks' Instagram posts—have been positive, but it was still uncertain, as of last month's offseason workouts whether he'll be ready for the start of training camp or open camp on the physically unable to perform list.
As Carroll notes, the depth behind Wagner, Brooks and Bush is young and relatively inexperienced—other than fullback/linebacker/special teams captain Nick Bellore—but with Rhattigan back and enjoying a healthy offseason after spending this time last year rehabbing an ACL injury, and with Jones transitioning from outside linebacker to the off-ball inside linebacker spot, and with other newcomers like undrafted rookies Cam Bright and Patrick O'Connell, the Seahawks will have plenty of players to evaluate in camp.
Wagner's return of course will add a playmaking element to the defense—he had six sacks and 10 tackles for loss last year, and last season was his seventh straight with at least 130 tackles, and he's never had fewer than the 104 he had in 11 games in 2014. But he will also bring leadership and experience to a defense that is young in a lot of positions, and that is undergoing some significant turnover on the defensive line. Wagner's experience and football smarts could go a long way towards Seattle making the improvements it is looking to make on defense this year. As defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt put it earlier this offseason, a lack of consistency led to the defense's two biggest issues last year, explosive plays and, at times, poor run defense. Few players in franchise history, if any, have been more consistent than Wagner, so who better to help lead a turnaround?
As for the outside linebackers who, for the most part will be on the line of scrimmage, that group will be looking to build off a strong showing last season, led by Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor, who recorded 9.5 sacks each. Those two are back and expected to play a big role, as is 2022 second-round pick Boye Mafe, and rookie Derick Hall, a second-round pick in this year's draft. Another name to watch in camp is Tyreke Smith, a 2022 fifth-round pick who missed his rookie season with a hip injury, but who is fully healthy now and who made a strong impression on coaches in offseason workouts.
Take a look back at some of the best photos of Seahawks linebacker Jordyn Brooks from the 2022 season.