Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (54) celebrates after intercepting a pass with teammate Byron Maxwell (41) during the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/John Hefti)

LB Wagner having huge year for Seahawks

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

RENTON, Wash. — When Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner was younger in his career and still lacking some recognition, it was teammate Richard Sherman that was regularly touting Wagner’s talent.

With Sherman out for the season, maybe he’ll be able to find time to lead Wagner’s campaign as his name is getting mentioned as a potential defensive player of the year candidate.

“(Sherman) needs to be in the building pumping us up,” joked fellow Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright.

Now in his sixth season, Wagner might be playing better now than at any point of his career. That’s notable since Wagner has already been an All-Pro, a multiple-time Pro Bowl selection, and is generally considered one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL.

But Wagner has crept into a different conversation as a possible defensive player of the year candidate. It’s always been a goal for Wagner, yet seemed unlikely with the award usually going to the most disruptive defensive lineman or a player in the secondary having a standout season. Luke Kuechly and Brian Urlacher are the only middle linebackers since 2003 to be honoured with the award.

Yet, whether his season is being looked at from an analytical perspective or simply watching him play, Wagner has rightfully found his way into the discussion. And he’ll have another prime stage this week when the Seahawks host the 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night.

He’s more than just a middle linebacker that makes tackles. Wagner understands that’s what it takes to be noticed.

“I feel like they don’t necessarily appreciate tackles as much though. You can’t just get it off tackles. You got to do more,” Wagner said.

“You got to do interceptions, you got to do sacks. A guy can have 10 sacks and he can win it. You definitely have to do more and I feel like the inside linebackers that have won it in the past understand that and have done more. And you know, I can do more, so I’ll be fine.”

The loss of Sherman and Kam Chancellor for the season has allowed Wagner to be viewed more in the spotlight and he’s helping to make up for Seattle losing two of its defensive stars. Wagner is third in the NFL in tackles with 100 through 11 games.

He’s fourth on the team in passes defenced and he’s tied for the team lead with Sherman with two interceptions, including a remarkable pick last week where he knocked the ball free from a San Francisco receiver and caught it against his body for an interception while he was on the ground.

“I told him I’ve never seen a play like that. It’s like a fumble/interception. Just really impressive,” Wright said. “That’s showing how much he’s paying attention getting after the ball. We talk about it every week.”

Pass coverage is one area where Wagner has focused on improving. He’s always been stout against the run and has benefited this season from the addition of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson eating up offensive linemen and keeping Wagner clear to make tackles.

It was a conscious decision by Wagner that started with watching film in the off-season and going from there.

“I think you just go and watch film and kind of look at all the opportunities that you had that you might have missed out on and that’s kind of what I did,” Wagner said.

“I looked back and I felt like there were some opportunities in coverage for me to make either a quarterback hold onto the ball a little bit longer to get the rush there or create a play myself so I just kind of looked at that and picked that as the thing to improve.”

NOTES: DE Cliff Avril underwent neck surgery on Tuesday and all indications were the surgery was successful. “As far as we’ve heard, everything went really well. So we are just waiting for him to get back,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. … RB Mike Davis (groin) and CB Shaquill Griffin were both limited in practice on Wednesday after both missed Sunday’s game.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP—NFL

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