RENTON, Wash. — Outside of his daily assignment of carrying in the shoulder pads and helmets of his veteran teammates, Seattle’s Bobby Wagner doesn’t feel much like a rookie.
He certainly isn’t being treated like a rookie on the practice field or in the meeting rooms, where he is being given first shot at taking over the starting middle linebacker position.
Only when he’s hauling gear does it really set in that just a year ago Wagner was still in college.
“That’s when I realize I’m a rookie,” Wagner said Thursday, nodding his head toward the helmet and shoulder pads of teammate Leroy Hill.
Finding a replacement in the middle of Seattle’s rapidly improving defense was an offseason priority after David Hawthorne signed a free agent deal with New Orleans. Instead of making a splash in free agency, the Seahawks (No. 22 in the AP Pro32) opted to try to fill the spot through the draft, taking Wagner in the second round out of Utah State.
Head coach Pete Carroll wanted to be faster in the middle. He wanted a linebacker who could be stout inside to plug the interior gaps, but also have the speed to go sideline to sideline and chase the play.
Wagner hasn’t won the job yet, with Carroll saying that he still wants to see Wagner in preseason games before handing over the job. But in the early stages of training camp, Wagner is the leader.
Taking on the job as the starting middle linebacker also means calling plays on defense and relaying messages. It also means having to make calls at the line of scrimmage once the huddle breaks and the offense lines up.
Picking up the principles of the Seahawks defense hasn’t been a problem for Wagner. It’s learning what adjustments the offense can and will make that’s been toughest so far.
“Just understanding the tricky formations offenses come out in. They’ll start one way and finish out a whole other way,” Wagner said. “You just have to see what they’re going to do.”
The players around him are helping Wagner. Hill is one of two Seahawks who remain from their NFC championship team in 2005. Even more of a help is second-year strongside linebacker K.J. Wright, who started the season opener a year ago at middle linebacker and filled in at that position when Hawthorne was injured. Wagner said Wright has been a huge help, along with free safety Earl Thomas, in helping him learn the adjustments that need to be made.
“Me and Bobby probably talk every play. Well, I probably do most of the talking. Just telling him what formations we’ve got,” Wright said. “Sometimes I leave him alone and let him do his own thing but for the most part we’re talking and making sure we’re on the same page.”
While Wagner will get all of the chances during the preseason to stake claim to the position — and become the first rookie to start at middle linebacker for Seattle since Lofa Tatupu in 2005 — the Seahawks have contingency plans. They signed veteran Barrett Ruud as another starting option. He played in similar defensive systems in Tampa Bay. There’s also the option of sliding Wright back to the inside and using someone else on the outside or even putting in an extra defensive back.
But Seattle wants to make it work with Wagner.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” Wagner said. “I have to step up to it.”