SEATTLE — When the Seahawks drafted K.J. Wright in 2011, coach Pete Carroll — in his own extraordinarily unique way — praised Wright for his “extraordinary uniqueness.”
Flash forward a few years, and Wright says he can be described a bit more plainly.
“Man, I’m a football player,” said Wright, who was taken in the fourth round with the 99th overall pick.
And what that means, he says, is simply doing whatever the Seahawks ask of him — no specific designation required.
Initially, as a rookie, he was a middle linebacker when the team cut Lofa Tatupu and David Hawthorne was slowed due to injury. Wright started the first game of his NFL career at that spot.
Then, when Hawthorne returned, Wright moved to strongside linebacker, emerging as the starter ahead of Aaron Curry, who was soon traded to the Raiders (for draft picks that became current starting guard J.R. Sweezy and rookie cornerback Tharold Simon).
And now in his third season, he is a weakside linebacker, taking over for Leroy Hill, who a year ago was the last remaining full-time Seahawks defensive starter from the 2005 Super Bowl team.
Seattle’s coaches saw the move as a natural fit for Wright, listed at 6 feet 4, 246 pounds with an almost 81-inch wing span.
In Seattle’s defense, the strongside linebacker generally lines up on the ball and over the tight end (the strong side of the offense), often assigned the task of rushing the passer.
The weakside linebacker typically lines up off the ball, flanking the middle linebacker in the center of the field behind the defensive line.
The job puts a bit more of a premium on pass coverage and moving laterally, which Seattle coaches felt suited Wright’s skills.
“The length and the size that K.J. has as a linebacker,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said of the decision to move Wright. “We like length and speed, and he’s got them.”
Said Wright: “Instead of being on the ball, I can be off the ball and be on the run and make the play even faster. It’s a perfect fit.”
What Wright also has is the ability to think quickly on his feet, something Carroll said stood out instantly, and alleviated any concerns about asking him to step in for Hill, who had started 89 games since 2005.
“We could put him anywhere immediately, from one play to the next, and he would be able to handle it,” Carroll said. “He surprised us with that savvy when he came in and the instincts, and all was so clear, once we had him for a few weeks. … He’s a very disciplined football player. He’s strict about his assignments and doing things right, he has great pride about doing things well, and very tough (with) a natural feel for pass coverage.”
Pro Football Focus says that through three games, Wright has been as good in pass coverage as any other linebacker who plays in a 4-3 scheme.
According to PFF, Wright is No. 1 among 4-3 linebackers in having allowed just one catch for every 20 snaps in coverage, and only four yards after the catch. The site ranks him No. 3 this week overall among 4-3 outside linebackers in pass coverage.
Wright also made one of Seattle’s key defensive plays of the year—one that was easy to overlook in the aftermath of the game—against San Francisco. It was a play that showcased the physical attributes that compelled Seattle to move him to weakside linebacker in the first place.
The 49ers embarked on their only real sustained march of the night midway through the third quarter after Seattle had taken a 12-0 lead. Facing third-and-goal from the three, 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick dropped back to throw, and finding no one open (though 49ers fans would argue he missed Anquan Boldin in the back of the end zone) took off to his left, hoping to find the corner of the end zone. Instead, Wright, who had initially been covering tight end Vernon Davis, moved quickly to tackle him at the 3, officially credited with a sack.
That forced a 49ers’ field goal that made the score 12-3, and when Seattle then quickly drove for another touchdown, the game was essentially sealed.
“In that situation, I was on Vernon and I did a little re-routing (of Davis) and then I saw (Kaepernick) try to sneak out so I held off the running back and came last minute to make the play,” Wright said. “That was big for us.”
If no big deal to Wright, who considered it all in a night’s work for a football player.
The Seahawks on Tuesday waived defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith off the active 53-man roster. Seattle traded a conditional seventh-round draft pick for Smith on Aug. 31. However, waiving Smith this early apparently means that trade is nullified and Seattle will keep the pick. Smith played in the first two games for Seattle, making five tackles. Seattle also re-signed WR Bryan Walters and DT Sealver Siliga to the practice squad, and waived DE Adewale Ojomo off the practice squad.