To see the full list of the Top 10 Most Important Seahawks in 2014, click here.
Just like you hate to see your quarterback get injured, you also hate to see the quarterback of your defense go down.
We’re entering Bobby Wagner’s third season in the league. If he was a successful sitcom, we’d safely expect his best season ever. Is it safe to assume that about his football career? Tough to say, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say that Wagner is going to take a BIG step forward.
That’s a little hard to define, since he has averaged 130 tackles per season in his first two years. He also had five picks and two interceptions last year, so really, how much more can you possibly ask of the guy? He’s been a starter at middle linebacker since he walked into the league, is it really wise to expect a dramatic uptick in productivity in his third year?
I guess when I say “BIG step forward”, I’m thinking more of a dominant presence. Like Earl and Kam. Guys who are not only there to make the tackle, but to really lay the lumber. Maybe a few more of those tackles are forced fumble opportunities. Maybe a few more of those tackles are tackles for loss. With his speed and awareness, I’d like to see him shooting through gaps more in passing situations, knocking balls down and knocking quarterbacks on their asses.
I’d like to see Wagner in the right position at the right time, picking off a few more balls. When you think about it, the middle of the field is all opponents have left. There’s just no point in throwing Richard Sherman’s direction. And, after other teams have had a good, long look at him, Byron Maxwell has developed a reputation as a guy who’s essentially Richard Sherman-lite. You don’t REALLY want to challenge either of those guys. You also don’t want to challenge us deep-middle, because that’s Earl Thomas Territory. So, that leaves you with short-middle. Dinking and dunking and hopefully getting your run game going. I don’t think teams have necessarily given up on the idea of using crossing patterns to fustigate us. That’s where Bobby Wagner comes in.
While Malcolm Smith might be the most athletic linebacker, and K.J. Wright might be the most versatile, Bobby Wagner is simply our BEST linebacker. All that’s left for him is the recognition he deserves. To get that recognition, he’s going to need to make a bigger impact relative to the rest of our defense. Our secondary is the bee’s knees. Our defensive line rotation tends to get the lion’s share of the pub once everyone is sick of talking about the L.O.B. Our linebackers, as a result, are a bit of an afterthought. Wagner can change that, just as soon as he becomes that dominant force I know he can be.
Linebackers might not be valued as high in this defense, but I would argue they’ll be more important than ever before under Pete Carroll. We still need to find a way to stop opposing rushing attacks. This line lost some major players in Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, our starting defensive ends in the base defense. Red Bryant was sort of a third tackle in a sense, but he was a force to be reckoned with on that side. Clemons was our starting rush-end, but he was MUCH better at playing the run than most people give him credit for. Whereas guys like Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin are straight-up pass rushers, Clemons was an all-around end, in the old school mold. He was getting on in years – along with Red – and that’s why they were let go, but those are two very big holes to fill.
And, from the looks of the off-season, the Seahawks haven’t done much to fill those holes. Michael Bennett was signed to an extension, and we all love that move. He will take over as the starting 5-tech defensive end in place of Red on the base defense. Suffice it to say, Red’s got some major girth over Bennett. Avril (it appears in the early going of Training Camp) will take over as the starting LEO end for Clemons. That’s not his natural position, nor his favored side, so we could be in for a bit of a learning curve/struggle with him early in the season. Regardless, our base defense has taken a major blow when it comes to stopping the run (even though it is probably much improved from a pass rush standpoint), which means that the slack is going to have to be picked up by the rest of the defensive unit.
And that means linebackers. This is where being a third year pro will be to Wagner’s advantage. His instincts should be finely tuned. His ability to read offenses and anticipate where the runner will be should be the best it’s ever been. The key to this whole thing – if we don’t want to have the ball jammed down our throats every week – will be Wagner’s ability to snuff these runs out and keep offenses in 2nd & Long and 3rd & Long situations.
I think he’s got what it takes. It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out.