Seattle Seahawks’ twin brothers, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, left, and cornerback Shaquill Griffin, greet fans after NFL football training camp, Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Seahawks undergo massive leadership shift

Veteran exodus leaves NFL team in transition

RENTON, Wash. — Bobby Wagner reacted as though he was hoping the question would come.

With all the changes on the Seattle Seahawks defence — the leaders, the voices, the veterans no longer around — will there be a new focus on a group of linebackers that at times has seemed underappreciated?

“It has always been about the guy in the middle,” Wagner said emphatically. “So for me, it’s not no different because that’s how I look at it, but from the outside maybe it is different because those guys are gone and you guys are looking for someone who is going to be that leader. Y’all ain’t got to look. You’re looking at the guy right here. I will be that guy and we’re going to be fine.”

And with that, any question about who the leading voice is on Seattle’s defence was quickly answered.

For most of the past half-decade, Seattle’s highly regarded defence was defined by the secondary with the catchy nickname and the flashy personalities. From there, attention often shifted to the defensive line and the type of chaos Michael Bennett and others created on — and sometimes off — the field.

Then there was Wagner and fellow linebacker K.J. Wright. They have been regarded as two of the best in the league at their positions and sometimes have received that level of recognition. But they were often relegated to a secondary role on their own team in terms of recognition even with Wagner being voted first-team All-Pro three times and Wright being a Pro Bowl selection.

“The attention has gone elsewhere, I guess,” Wright said. “Nothing will change. We’ll still be the bad-ass linebackers on this team. We’ll still lead the way. Stuff will still be run in order. We’ll still make plays and it’ll be fun out there.”

Seattle’s off-season defensive overhaul saw Bennett, Richard Sherman and Sheldon Richardson find new homes; Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor step away from the game due to neck injuries, and Earl Thomas hold out in search of a new contract. There are changes everywhere across Seattle’s defensive alignment, with the exception of the linebackers.

Wagner has been calling Seattle’s defence from the moment he arrived in the NFL and became a starter as a rookie. His partner the entire time has been Wright. With the departures, those voices they’ve used together for the past six seasons will be even louder.

“Yeah, they had the name, they got a lot of the attention and now the attention may shift to the linebackers,” Wagner said. “But we pride ourselves on being the guys that lead this team and that has been my mindset since I stepped in. I had coach Norton teach me the way.”

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Ken Norton Jr. has returned to Seattle to be the defensive co-ordinator. He was a mentor for Wagner and Wright as the linebackers coach when both arrived in the NFL. Now he’s returned with an even bigger imprint on what Seattle does defensively.

“He’s the linebackers guy and he put that responsibility more on us. He calls on me in the meeting room to answer most of the questions, calls on Bobby to answer the questions because he knows that we’re all on the same page,” Wright said. “He knows that we’re the guys that can share our leadership abilities, share our knowledge of the game. He’s putting that on us.”

There may also be some schematic tweaks that give Wagner and Wright more freedom defensively. Wright said he believes the adjustments will make Seattle more fundamentally sound defensively and the linebackers could be the benefactors.

“I think this defence is hungry,” Wright said. “We have a lot to prove. Myself, the secondary with all the guys leaving, the (defensive) line with the guys leaving. It’s going to be fun because you’ve got guys who want to come and show who they are.”

___

Tim Booth, The Associated Press

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