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RENTON, Wash. – Previously monitored present at Seattle Seahawks training on Thursday.
KJ Wright participated in their fifth organized team activity, albeit just as a guest. The longtime Seahawks linebacker and current free agent is interested in playing in 2022, but only if an opportunity arises in Seattle. He does not want to be away from his family again, as he was last year during his lonely season with the Las Vegas Raiders. The Seahawks and Wright have discussed a possible return, but as general manager John Schneider has said, it would likely be in a non-playing role.
Wright is one of the most important players from the most successful era in franchise history, but the Seahawks are starting a new chapter at linebacker. And they’re more eager to see fourth-year pro Cody Barton join Jordyn Brooks in the starting lineup than you might realize.
After primarily spending his first three seasons as a special teams player and backup behind Wright and Bobby Wagner, Barton finally gets his shot with both franchise cornerstones away.
“I think people will be amazed at how well he plays,” said a talent evaluator from the Seahawks.
Barton has five place starts since the Seahawks drafted him in the third round in 2019 from Utah. He made 18 combined tackles instead of an injured Wagner in the last two games last season.
It was actually an audition for the starting job that opened when the Seahawks released Wagner in March. The only inside linebacker they signed in free agency was Joel Iyiegbuniwe, who got a minimum wage deal to be backup and play on special teams. They did not draw a linebacker with any of their nine picks.
“Really good in the passing game,” said new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt from Barton. “He’s always had a great awareness of it. He has a background as a security in growing up, and then obviously working his way down into the box, so you see some of those things with his awareness and collecting passport routes and communicating with guys in the back. .. The effort, the attention to detail for Cody has always been a part of it, but now he has a great opportunity and he has had a really good spring so far. “
While Barton filled up for Wagner in the last two games, Brooks closed out one of the most productive seasons of any NFL linebacker. The 2020 selection in the first round ended with 184 tackles, finishing in second place in the league and breaking the Seahawks mark in a single season. The total amount was partly due to how much time Seattle’s defense spent on the field – it led the league in snaps by a wide margin – but also the move Brooks made from his rookie season.
Not that year 2 was perfect. But even with the occasional difficulty Brooks had in recognizing screen passes – at one point, leading to mild public criticism from coach Pete Carroll – he looked like a Pro Bowler on the way.
With Wagner gone, Brooks will take over as Seattle’s defensive signal caller.
“He had an incredible season last year and he’s just getting better all the time and you can just see the raw talent he has,” said linebacker / defender Nick Bellore. “… He took the pieces, I think, from Bobby and KJ [they] taught him a little along the way and I think he just took it and ran with it. I think a guy who can run like that and cover like he does and hit like he does, I think heaven is the limit for him. “
The transition away from Wagner and Wright could have happened earlier, if not for Ken Norton Jr., their former position coach and one of their biggest proponents. Long before he was fired as defensive coordinator earlier this offseason, Norton developed a reputation in the organization for being reluctant to play young players, oddly enough in several cases.
In 2019, for example, I preferred a base-heavy defense that regularly kept a third linebacker on the field – veteran Mychal Kendricks and not Barton – instead of inserting a fifth defensive back in rookie Ugo Amadi. It amazed some inside the team headquarters when newcomer in the second round, Marquise Blair, despite having played in three previous fill-in starts, did not start late that season while Quandre Diggs was out of the game. Brooks played sparingly at the start of his rookie season in 2020, even though Seattle had just drafted him as No. 27. It took an injury to veteran Bruce Irvin to get him into the starting lineup.
“We have to play young guys,” Hurtt said. “They have to be on the pitch. We have to make them ready. They are the future. But at the same time, we have to make sure the best players are out there.”
Whether Wright ends up with the Seahawks or not, he and Wagner will both end up in the team’s ring of honor. They are third and first on the franchise’s list of tackles, respectively. Meanwhile, Wagner is still adding his Hall of Fame resume with the Los Angeles Rams.
“It’s a game where someone has to step in and somehow fill those roles,” Bellore said. “I think of course we have the guys to do it. They’s great shoes to fill.”