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 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. 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.
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.”