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Sports >  Seattle Seahawks

Pete Carroll doesn’t rule out return of K.J. Wright, but focus is on developing younger players

UPDATED: Mon., May 9, 2022

Seattle coach Pete Carroll hugs former Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright during pregame warmups on Oct. 28, 2018, in Detroit.  (Associated Press)
Seattle coach Pete Carroll hugs former Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright during pregame warmups on Oct. 28, 2018, in Detroit. (Associated Press)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

RENTON, Wash. – K.J. Wright, one of the Seahawks’ best players during the team’s greatest run of success, said last week he’d love to end his career in Seattle.

“I want to go back home,” Wright said on the “Half-Forgotten History” podcast with Trey Wingo. “I think it’s that simple. Seattle knows that I want to come back. They know how much they mean to me.”

Could it happen?

Well, while coach Pete Carroll didn’t seem to completely dismiss the idea when asked about it Sunday, a source confirmed his comments were about Wright returning to the team in a non-playing role and not as a player.

“I love K.J.,” Carroll said. “I’ve already talked to him about stuff for the future and all that. I did hear that he talked about playing, and we’ve already talked about that.”

While the vagueness of Carroll’s comments lead to interpretation, a source confirmed that the team has not talked to Wright about returning as a player but instead in a non-playing role.

Wright, a linebacker who spent last year with the Raiders, turns 33 in July and the team’s moves of the past few months make clear the Seahawks are in the midst of a youth movement after deciding to trade Russell Wilson. The only players older than Wright on the roster are defensive tackle Al Woods and fullback Nick Bellore.

And the Seahawks for now are committed to their young inside linebacking duo of Jordyn Brooks and Cody Barton, who played all but one snap together of the final two games of last season – each wins – after middle linebacker Bobby Wagner was injured on the first play of the second-to-last game of the year.

The expected move to a defense that emphasizes more of a 3-4 defensive scheme this year than the 4-3 of the past also may mean the Seahawks are adjusting roles for the linebackers they have.

After Wagner’s release some were surprised the Seahawks didn’t draft an inside linebacker. After the draft Carroll and general manager John Schneider said they like what they have on the roster at inside linebacker.

“I feel like we’re in good shape in the way we’re lining up depth-wise,’’ Carroll said. “… As always, we’ll keep working it but I like the guys that we have and I think we’re in good shape there. We didn’t need to go there (in the draft).’’

The Seahawks also added to their inside-linebacking depth in the offseason by signing free agent Iggy Iyiegbuniwe, who spent the past four years with the Bears and Sean Desai – now the Seahawks’ associate head coach for defense.

While Iyiegbuniwe played sparingly on defense for the Bears, he had 1,214 special-teams snaps the past four years and backup linebackers are typically required to be core special teamers, meaning they take part on basically every special-teams unit. That’s not something Wright would likely be asked to do at this stage.

The Seahawks’ other inside linebackers include former UW standout Ben Burr-Kirven, who is back to running after suffering an ACL injury last August, and Tanner Muse, a third-round pick of the Raiders in 2020 who played in six games after being signed in September. While Muse didn’t play on defense last year he played 100 snaps on special teams.

Jon Rhattigan, who played in 14 games last year as a backup inside linebacker with 250 special-teams snaps, is also on the roster but is recovering from a knee injury suffered in a December game against the Rams. Bellore is also listed as a linebacker, having played that spot earlier in his career, and as the special-teams captain a year ago has a big role on those teams and projects to again in 2022.

And according to Carroll, one of the standouts of this weekend’s rookie minicamp was Vi Jones, one of the team’s 14 undrafted rookie free-agent signees.

Interestingly, Jones wore Wright’s former No. 50 during rookie minicamp – no player wore that number in 2021 – and spent some time playing Wright’s old weakside linebacker spot, though he could also play outside.

Jones is the son of former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Robert Jones, who won three Super Bowl rings in the 1990s, and a former four-star recruit at USC who later transferred to North Carolina State. At N.C. State he blocked three kicks in 2020 to earn honors as the team’s co-special teams player of the year.

The 6’2, 225-pound Jones even seemed to somewhat resemble Wright on the field, especially with his length – he has a wingspan of 79-1/8-inches just off Wright’s famous 80-inch measurement.

“He looks the part,’’ Carroll said. “He’s quick and really athletic. He’s got a good general background of what he’s played, and you can see, he’s got a lot of athleticism. He’s really fast, really fits the bill. One of the guys that wasn’t the draft picks that I totally picked up on, was excited to see him, and you can picture. He could be a special teamer. He could play a little bit outside, play a little inside backer for you, if you need him to, and he’ll be able to match up with guys. So he had a good camp. A really good camp.”

Which means that for now, any return by Wright will be in a mentoring role for the young linebackers, and not joining them on the field.

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