RENTON, Wash. – A large wall in a hallway at the Seahawks training facility that leads from the lobby to the indoor practice field and locker room is peppered with photos of glorious moments of the Pete Carroll era.
Basically every key personality since 2010 is featured somewhere along the route, and for most players, the photo captures his signature moment as a Seahawk – Marshawn Lynch during his Beast Quake run, Jermaine Kearse’s catch against the Packers, Richard Sherman’s tip, Kam Chancellor’s 90-yard interception return in the playoffs against Carolina.
The first picture in the hall features linebacker K.J. Wright. It’s not a play anyone would really remember – a tackle in the 2013 divisional playoff game against Washington.
Not that you couldn’t pick more of a highlight play for Wright, such as his interception in last year’s playoff game against Dallas.
But it’s maybe the best fit for Wright, whose greatest strength has always been his understated, and sometimes easy to overlook, consistency handling the most basic requirement of his job.
As Wright says, “a linebacker is supposed to make tackles.”
And make tackles Wright has done during a Seahawks career that began in 2011.
It was equally fitting that Wright, the longest-tenured player on the team, set a couple of tackling milestones Monday night that might have become lost in the shuffle of what was another wild and crazy Seahawks victory.
During Seattle’s 37-30 win over Minnesota, Wright moved into third in Seahawks history in tackles with 820, passing Keith Butler (who had 813) while also notching the fifth 100-tackle season of his career, good for second in Seahawks history (he had nine Monday night and has 104 for the season).
His good friend and current teammate Bobby Wagner is first in both categories (eight 100-tackle seasons and 1,029 tackles).
Wright hopes to one day be second in both – Eugene Robinson is currently second in team history in tackles with 984.
“I’m still climbing that ladder,” Wright said Thursday, invoking a phrase appropriate for a player who has earned the nickname “Spiderman” thanks to his 6-foot-4, 246-pound frame and rare 80-inch wingspan. “Aiming for No. 2 to be with Bobby in franchise history. So we’ve still got some work to do.”
Wright, though, admitted he took a moment to soak in the personal achievements once the dust cleared Monday.
“They do, they do,” he said when asked if the numbers and records mean something to him. “I missed it last year (100 tackles) when I was injured, banged up. But to get to 100 is really special.”
Wright had no real idea he’d be back with the Seahawks this season when the playoff game in Dallas last year ended.
He was a free agent set to turn 30 and played just five games in 2018 due to a knee injury that required surgery.
But before the first day of free agency passed, Wright agreed on a two-year deal with Seattle paying him up to $14 million in base value. The contract is structured so there is no guaranteed money in 2020 – the team has to pick up an option paying him $1 million on the fifth day of the 2020 league year in March, meaning Seattle will at least have to make a decision by then. The contract also carries an $8.5 million cap hit next year.
But if those numbers served as a hedge for the team in case Wright couldn’t bounce back in 2019 (as did the drafting of Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven), Wright has played this season like his old self, and not an old self, and at this point it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be back.
The future, though, is a question for another day.
What’s clear is that whenever Wright’s career ends, he’ll have left a legacy as one of the most consistent defensive players in team history.
He made a tackle on the second play of his first NFL game in the season opener against the 49ers in 2011 on a day when he played middle linebacker instead of the weakside spot he has made his own through most of his career, sandwiched between Aaron Curry and Leroy Hill. His first tackle was a stop on a run of 3 yards by future Hall of Fame running back Frank Gore.
Wright didn’t remember that play when it was brought up this week. But when asked to name a favorite tackle, he pointed to another one from his rookie season, a screen pass to running back Kahlil Bell in a late-season win at Chicago.
“It was a screen play that I read and it was one of the most beautiful tackles that I have ever done,” he said. “Most people don’t remember, but it was one of my favorite tackles.”
Asked why, Wright countered: “Go watch it. You’ll see.”
The replay shows Bell catching the ball in the flat and Wright closing quickly to lay him out, leading with his right shoulder to make contact and then using his right arm to bring Bell down for a 4-yard loss.
And that, likely, was Wright’s point – the head was nowhere near being involved.
Wright, a fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State, said he learned a whole new way of tackling with the Seahawks, and specifically from former defensive assistant Rocky Seto, who took the lead in teaching players Pete Carroll’s favored rugby-style shoulder tackling techniques.
“The key is, first off you’ve got to be in attack mode,” Wright said of what makes a good tackler. “And then, I’m telling you when we started teaching that leverage shoulder tackling when Seto was here (Seto left following the 2016 season), that stuff was life-changing. Leverage shoulder, keep the guy on your inside hip. That head across body stuff is out. … Players need to stop getting your head across. That’s how you get concussions and miss tackles. It’s just being violent, leverage (your) shoulder and just being on attack mode.”
Or, as defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., who was Seattle’s linebackers coach when Wright was drafted, says of one of his most prized students: “(It’s) his ability to diagnose plays really fast. He’s a natural in seeing a play and knowing how to defeat it.”
From first day to last, Spiderman is climbing as far up the Seahawks’ record books as NFL fate will allow.
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