Chat wrap: Seahawks' next middle 'backer

June, 22, 2012
6/22/12
5:48
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One of our leftover NFC West chat questions provides an opportunity to expand upon an interview conducted during the Seattle Seahawks' mandatory minicamp last week.

"What are your impressions of Bobby Wagner so far?" Griz from Montana asked. "Is he going to be able to step in and at least be a stable presence at MLB? I'm hoping his speed allows K.J. Wright to rush the passer a little more often this year."

[+] EnlargeBobby Wagner
Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIREThe Seahawks are optimistic that Bobby Wagner can handle the rigors of middle linebacker.
Wagner appears smooth and athletic. He's thick through his legs. We haven't seen him operate in a padded practice to this point, so we're missing a key component of the initial evaluation -- especially for a middle linebacker.

Playing the position well requires the quickness to avoid blocks and the strength to hold up when forced to engage offensive linemen. It's also helpful to have a strong enough feel for the game to handle play calls and alignments before the snap. The Seahawks sound confident Wagner has the necessary physical attributes.

"What we watched about him [at Utah State] was just his speed -- he had real good speed," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said as minicamps wrapped up last week. "That is something like we felt we needed in that spot. He was also really, really effective with his hands. And in the spot we have him, at the Mike, you have to have really good hands, explosiveness, and he had those traits."

The Seahawks are still in the early stages of figuring out how well Wagner will handle the mental side of the game, especially early. Wright will help with play calls and alignments as needed. Wagner, a second-round choice set to replace free-agent subtraction David Hawthorne, was handling those duties with the base defense during minicamps. It's a tough transition to make.

"He was in a [college] system where they may have run two or three defenses in a game," Bradley said. "We had to say, 'OK, now, the learning curve for him, how is he going to be able to handle that?' And he’s been good, but we’ve thrown a lot at him. He’s in charge of calling the huddle, setting the front, making some checks. Plus, instead of two defenses, 25 defenses."

Wagner projects as the middle linebacker on early downs. Wright will be the middle linebacker in the nickel defense.

Expanding Wright's role to include a pass-rushing element would seem to make sense based on Wright's height (6-foot-4), ranginess, smarts and feel for the game. The team did expand that aspect of his role late last season. We could see more of that from him in 2012. It doesn't appear to be a primary point of emphasis. It wasn't something I discussed with Bradley or Wright when speaking with them last week.

Wright on his goals for 2012: "Be more of a big-time guy, be out there on all three downs, make some turnovers, just take that next step as far as being a good NFL football player."

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