RENTON — When the Seahawks first drafted K.J. Wright, the immediate concern was that the linebacker from Mississippi State wasn’t excited enough about his future in the NFL.
A perplexed general manager John Schneider, who called the fourth-round pick, told Wright he better get more pumped up
before talking to Pete Carroll, only to find out that Wright was speaking in hushed tones because he was in the middle of his college graduation, about to walk on stage to pick up his diploma, having earned his degree in criminology.
Four months later, it is safe to say not only that Wright is sufficiently excited to be in the NFL, but also that the Seahawks are equally enthused about the rookie’s play.
“He’s getting better every week,” linebacker coach Ken Norton, Jr. said. “Every time you watch him play, watch him move, he’s getting more comfortable. His reads in the middle are really good, he’s picking up things in the passing game. I couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t expect a rookie to have more done than him.”
The fact that Wright is having a good training camp shouldn’t be that surprising; after all, the Seahawks drafted him for a reason. What makes Wright’s first few weeks in the NFL so impressive is that he’s doing it at a position he didn’t play in college. As a sophomore and junior at MSU, Wright, who appeared in every game of his four-year career, started at strongside linebacker, then as a senior he played on the weakside. What he never did, on a regular basis, was play middle linebacker. Yet early in training camp, Norton looked at Wright, saw a player who was big, athletic, and most importantly intelligent — the middle linebacker is essentially the quarterback of the defense — and decided to move Wright to the middle. With the surprising departure of Lofa Tatupu, Wright suddenly became the team’s No. 2 middle linebacker behind David Hawthorne.
And in that new role, Wright has excelled quickly. Of course there have been hiccups along the way, but as defensive coordinator Gus Bradley puts it, Wright doesn’t make the same mistakes twice. In Seattle’s preseason opener, Wright led the team with eight total tackles and seven solo tackles.
“The game was really good for me,” Wright said. “Before I was really nervous, I didn’t know what to expect, but when I got out there I just starting flying around, trying to make plays wherever I could.”
Wright admits the change hasn’t been easy all the time, but with each passing day, he feels more comfortable in the middle of the defense.
“The first three or four practices, I was real bad at it, but as camp has gone on, I feel like I’ve made a big improvement,” he said. “It’s starting to feel like second nature to me. … I played the Sam (strongside) and Will (weakside) in college, so this is my first time playing Mike (middle). At first it was a little different getting everybody lined up and setting the whole defense, but I’m getting the hang of it.”
One reason Wright never played in the middle is that he doesn’t necessarily look the part. At 6-foot-4, 246 pounds, the long-limbed Wright looks more like a defensive end than a middle linebacker, particularly to people in Seattle used to seeing Tatupu and Hawthorne, a pair of undersized linebackers, man that spot.
“He’s a big kid, he’s different than most Mike linebackers,” Carroll said. “He’s almost 6-4, so he’s got a different look to him as he moves around. He’s very instinctive, he’s got a real quick knack to find the football and when he gets there he’s 250-something pounds. He’s got some dimensions that make him unique in our group. I was really pleased with the way he played.”
But where some see an unusual fit at middle linebacker, Norton, a former NFL linebacker himself, saw a good fit for Wright.
“He’s big, he’s fast, he’s strong, he’s got attitude, he’s really smart — to me that’s pretty prototypical,” Norton said. “He can get everybody lined up, he knows what he’s doing, he runs well, and he really cares about what he’s doing. So right when I saw him, I said, ‘I want to get a good look at him on the inside.'”
And three weeks into that look, the Seahawks like what they’re seeing in Wright.
Left tackle Russell Okung, who suffered an ankle injury in last week’s preseason game, was in uniform Thursday and participated in some individual drills. While Okung was clearly not moving at full speed, his presence on the field was a good sign for the Seahawks. Carroll described Okung as being “A week away, two weeks away at most.” Okung, who missed six games with a pair of high-ankle sprains last season, added, “It’s coming along a lot faster than I though it would.” … DE Red Bryant, who is coming back from a knee injury that prematurely ended his 2010 season, practiced fully and turned in a couple of impressive plays Thursday. He is expected to make his preseason debut after sitting out last week’s game.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog