Linebackers Bobby Wagner (54) and Jordyn Brooks (56) close in on Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown on Dec. 20, 2023, during a game in Philadelphia. (Yong Kim / Philadelphia Inquirer, file)

Linebackers Bobby Wagner (54) and Jordyn Brooks (56) close in on Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown on Dec. 20, 2023, during a game in Philadelphia. (Yong Kim / Philadelphia Inquirer, file)

Seahawks at LB: Expected center of new D is missing, so far

Seattle is trying to learn a new defense with inside linebackers Dodson and Baker sidelined.

RENTON — From Bobby Wagner to …

A special-teams regular. A practice-squad player. A rookie. Plus two guys who are injured and aren’t on the field?

Yes, the Seattle Seahawks sure are different at inside linebacker.

So far, way early, three months before the games get real, they aren’t better.

For the second time in three years this offseason, Seattle let Wagner’s contract expire and let the future Hall-of-Fame linebacker leave to another team. He’s now a Washington Commander. The Seahawks also let Jordyn Brooks, their former starter and first-round draft choice, leave this offseason. Brooks signed with Miami.

In Wagner’s and Brooks’ places as the centerpieces and signal-callers in new coach Mike Macdonald’s new Seattle defense, at least for now: Jon Rhattigan and Patrick O’Connell. They have been the starting inside linebackers in the three weeks of organized team activities practices (OTAs) the Seahawks ended Thursday and Friday at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.

Rhattigan is the fourth-year veteran from Army West Point. He has been Wagner’s backup and a mainstay on special teams. O’Connell was on Seattle’s practice squad last season. The team signed him in the spring of 2023 as an undrafted rookie from Montana.

They are with the starting defense because Tyrel Dodson and Jerome Baker have been recovering from injuries. Dodson, signed this offseason as a free agent from Buffalo, has an undisclosed injury. Macdonald has said he expects the 25-year-old Dodson to be the linebacker who calls the defensive plays and moves teammates around before snaps this coming season.

The Seahawks signed Baker this offseason from the Dolphins. He is recovering from surgery to repair a wrist that limited him to 13 of 17 games with Miami last season. Macdonald said last week Baker also has a “couple” unspecified “lower-body” injuries. The coach said Baker should be on the field for training camp. That begins July 26.

The Seahawks end their offseason practices with a mandatory minicamp next week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Then they have six weeks off before the preseason begins.

“He’s going to be fine,” Macdonald said of Baker. “But just right now we won’t see him out in OTAs.”

The two inside linebackers who are to be the play callers and unit’s traffic cops are the players above all other Seahawks Macdonald would prefer to have on the field practicing this spring in the early stages of installing his new defense from the Baltimore Ravens.

Is he concerned Dodson and Baker aren’t on the field for this installation of the defense?

“I wouldn’t call it a concern,” Macdonald said. “But any time someone isn’t getting all the reps you’ve got to figure out different ways to get them the reps. So it’s mental stuff, walk-throughs.

“We’re trying to be creative in the building to make sure he gets all the things he needs to see. He’ll be up to speed, ready to roll.”

The 36-year-old Macdonald, the NFL’s youngest head coach, was a linebackers coach before he was a defensive coordinator, in 2021 for the University of Michigan and the last two years for the Ravens. He knows and coaches the position more than any other.

Asked to assess linebacker in his first months leading the Seahawks, Macdonald deferred judgment.

“Tough,” Macdonald said, “because some of the guys weren’t out there. Something we’re chasing right now.

“Again, we’re seeing how it fits and where guys feel more comfortable, inside or outside, that sort of thing. Probably early to kind of give you a full report on that.”

Tyrice Knight’s fit

One of the guys Macdonald and new defensive coordinator Aden Durde are seeking to find a fit for at linebacker is Tyrice Knight.

The rookie fourth-round draft choice was an inside backer his final year at the University of Texas-El Paso last season. He had 15 1/2 tackles for loss freelancing from that spot; his college coaches let him freelance into the backfield to find the ball. He was an outside linebacker before that at UTEP.

Macdonald said upon drafting Knight in late April that Knight was going to begin working at outside linebacker, at least initially. The idea was for the rookie to learn the defense outside. Coaches would then consider when or if to move Knight inside.

Then Dodson stayed hurt. Baker’s recovery from surgery lingered. By OTAs it was Rhattigan and O’Connell as the successors to Wagner and Brooks, unexpectedly in the middle of Macdonald’s installation of his new Seattle defense.

Monday, Knight’s learning curve steepened. In the seventh of 10 OTA practices, Knight was an outside linebacker on the second-team defense. He ranged outside to bat down a pass by quarterback Sam Howell away from rookie tight end Jack Westover.

Later in the practice Knight moved to inside, weakside linebacker next to Rhattigan in the middle of the starting defense. Rhattigan continued to call the plays Macdonald was relaying to him from behind the offense through a walkie-talkie into the middle linebacker’s helmet speaker.

Knight as an inside linebacker is more intriguing considering Baker, once considered a mainstay on a $37 million contract in Miami, and Dodson signed only one-year contracts with Seattle.

Baker signed for $6 million guaranteed. So he’s playing, and likely at the weakside inside backer spot Knight was in Monday

Macdonald has said Dodson, 25, will be wearing the green dot on his helmet this coming season, signifying he has the helmet speaker to receive then call the defensive plays.

Yet Dodson remains unproven. He’s never played more than 51% of Buffalo’s defensive snaps in any of his four seasons with the Bills.

Rhattigan, 25, has the experience of years backing up Wagner, but only 19 snaps in the regular season doing the middle-linebacker job for Seattle. Those all came last season.

Knight, 24, is a middle-linebacker option in training. Very early training.

Durde said he liked what he saw from Knight on Monday.

“I thought (Monday) was good,” the new defensive coordinator said. “Especially as you’re going through it, it’s easier for guys up front. There’s a lot of crossover fundamentals that come in that position. Now when you step it back, there’s a lot of checks and there’s a lot of communication that Tyrice is going through.

“But as it settles like (Monday), I thought that he had done a good job at it (Monday).”

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