Seahawks’ Wagner is flying under the radar

RENTON — One rookie is getting all the publicity in Seattle, which of course is to be expected given the position he plays.

But while the spotlight has been focused squarely on quarterback Russell Wilson, another member of the Seahawks’ 2012 draft class is quietly having a very impressive rookie campaign. Like Wilson, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner opened the season starting at a position that asks a lot of a rookie. Middle linebackers are the ones getting the defense in position and making calls on the field — hence they are sometimes called the quarterback of the defense. And while you’ve heard plenty of talk about Wilson’s successes and failures, odds are nobody you know is debating whether or not Wagner deserves to be the Seahawks’ starting middle linebacker.

And that’s a good thing for the Seahawks. Wagner’s debut has flown a bit under the radar for a couple of reasons, one of which is the fact that he plays on such a loaded defense, which makes his contributions easier to overlook. But Wagner is also enjoying a quiet first quarter of the season because he hasn’t given anyone much reason to complain or nitpick his play.

“I think it’s worth noting that at the quarter point of the season that there are a lot of really good things that have happened, particularly for some of the young guys who have come on,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. “Bobby is one of them. He’s really playing good football. He’s doing a terrific job of handling things, he’s showing up with big hits, he’s showing up covering well, he chases the football. You can see the speed that he has, it’s shown up a number of times. We don’t have anything that we can’t do right now. He can play nickel situations, he can do everything that we want him to right now. That’s a major statement for us.”

Wagner had a team-high seven solo tackles in Sunday’s loss in St. Louis, and now is second on the team in tackles this season behind linebacker K.J. Wright. Wagner has proven to be a quick study since arriving in Seattle as a second-round pick out of Utah State.

“I’m a lot more comfortable just because I’ve done it for four games and I’ve got the confidence and the players have backed me up,” Wagner said. “… It’s gone pretty good. I thought it would go well, I just figured the faster I learned the defense, the faster I’d be making plays.”

The Seahawks drafted him hoping he would be the replacement for David Hawthorne, but also signed veteran linebacker Barrett Ruud as an insurance policy. Early on, the plan was also to have Wright handle most of the play calling to ease the burden on Wagner, but it didn’t take long for the Seahawks to decide they could afford to release Ruud, and also put more responsibility on Wagner’s plate.

“It’s tough, but he’s built for it,” said linebacker Leroy Hill, who along with Lofa Tatupu started at linebacker as a rookie in 2005. “He has the mind for it and the physical ability for it and he’s showing it man. He’s taking control of the defense, even though he has a lot of good parts around him, and he’s just stepping his game up to the level that everybody else is playing at.”

“I see him developing into a great middle linebacker,” said safety Kam Chancellor. “He’s great with his communication, great with getting the calls, great with lining people up. He’s an aggressive tackler, athletic linebacker. The sky’s the limit for him.”

This week, Wagner and the rest of the defense face a big challenge when it comes to the Carolina Panthers and their second-year quarterback, Cam Newton. With Newton making big plays with his arm and his legs, the Panthers, despite their ups and downs, had one of the most explosive offenses in the league last season.

“He’s a marvelous thrower, he has tremendous downfield accuracy,” Carroll said of Newton. “He was way, way, way ahead of anybody else in the draft a couple of years ago in his ability to function on throws that were way down the field. You can see it. He is just extraordinary on long balls and deeper developing type of routes, so that’s an issue. He’s a big stud that likes running the football and they’ve put that into their offense so that he does carry the ball quite a bit. He runs very aggressively for a quarterback, and he’s a big man. The option stuff that they run creates a whole other level of problems.”

At Utah State, Wagner faced plenty of teams that ran a similar offenses to the zone-read option the Panthers sometimes use, but Wagner knows that seeing a similar offense doesn’t mean he’s seen anything like Newton.

“Like Cam Newton?” he said. “No, not like Cam.”


Cornerback Marcus Trufant sat out Wednesday’s practice after experiencing back soreness in Sunday’s game. Carroll said this back issue is “related” to Trufant’s previous back injuries, but did not offer any prognosis on how long the veteran might be out. Trufant opened the 2009 season on the Physically Unable to Perform list because of a disc issue in his back, then after a healthy 2010, he suffered another back injury in 2011 that put him on injured reserve last October.

Guard John Moffitt has been ruled out of Sunday’s game with a knee injury. Rookie defensive tackle Jaye Howard sat out practice with a foot injury.

Herald Writer John Boyle:

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