RENTON — On the second day of Seahawks training camp, Cody Barton crowded in with dozens of his other teammates in the back of the team’s auditorium at the VMAC to watch K.J. Wright officially announce his retirement.
Then, after Wright’s farewell was over, Barton took the field for another practice, hoping to continue to show that he can be a suitable heir apparent for one of the greatest Seahawks ever.
“I don’t feel pressure, no,” Barton said of the task of teaming with Jordyn Brooks as Seattle’s inside linebacking tandem, the first time since 2010 the Seahawks won’t have one of either Wright or Bobby Wagner as part of their linebacking crew.
“It’s the way it goes. You start letting external pressure get into yourself, putting pressure on yourself, you might fold. So I don’t really feel pressure. I’m ready for the challenge. I’ve been ready for a while and I’m just excited to run with it.”
And the Seahawks have shown nothing but confidence that he can get the job done, with general manager John Schneider stating in March that in the wake of the release of Wagner, the Seahawks were ready to roll with Barton and Brooks inside.
“We’re on to Jordyn and Cody,” Schneider said then, with the Seahawks making no significant moves since then to add competition for Barton’s spot.
The roles of Brooks and Barton, though, have shifted a little from the ones they played last year.
Brooks played alongside Wagner in 2021 at weakside linebacker, the spot Wright held for most of his Seattle career, while Barton played all but one snap of the final two games of last season replacing Wagner in the middle when Wagner suffered a knee injury on the first play against Detroit.
But with Wagner gone, Brooks is now in the middle and carrying the green dot on his helmet, meaning he’s who gets the play call from the coaches and relays it to the rest of the team, while Barton is playing weakside.
Both also have somewhat different roles than did Wagner and Wright for most of their careers with Seattle planning to go with more of a 3-4 scheme.
Barton says the scheme being implemented by new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt, “asks for me to do some different things” than the old one did, and that his new role specifically means “I have a lot more responsibility in the pass game, which I love. I love (defending) the pass game.”
The moves seem to fit each of the linebackers’ strengths.
Brooks made a franchise-record 183 tackles last season and has been regarded as particularly proficient in defending the run. His pass coverage has been a work in progress — he allowed a passer rating of 118.1 in 2021 according to Pro Football Reference. Moving to middle linebacker means Brooks shouldn’t have to cover as much ground in pass coverage.
Barton, meanwhile, was a highly rated safety coming out of Brighton High in Salt Lake before signing with Utah, where he initially played a rover position before moving to linebacker.
“He has always been an excellent pass defender, which we need him to be,’’ coach Pete Carroll said last week. “So we are going to try to allow him to play to his strengths and count on him to do a bunch of playing for us.”
Wright, of course, was also known for his pass defense, regarded as one of the best in the NFL in his career at defending screens. Seattle struggled in that area last year in allowing the second-most passing yards in the NFL.
But the team hopes putting Barton in that spot now and allowing Brooks to play in the middle will go a long way toward improving its pass defense.
“He had a safety background in college,” Hurtt noted last week of Barton. “He’s a very aware guy in the pass game.”
Entering the final season of his rookie contract but having made just five starts, Barton says he’ll do whatever the team wants as long as he can get on the field.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Barton said. “I’m excited.”
Still, even if he says he doesn’t feel pressure stepping into a starting role for the first time, he knows there are big shoes to fill stepping into the spot that Wright handled so well for most of the previous decade.
Wright and Wagner took Barton under their collective wing when he arrived in 2019, with Barton saying the two taught him “hundreds of things. When I first got here I didn’t know much. Just ‘see ball, get ball’ I guess. But Bobby and K.J. taught me a ton about the game, the ins and outs and the details, about life. Just everything.”
Barton was hardly alone in being mentored by Wright and Wagner, whose locker room leadership was just one of the many reasons each will go down as legendary Seahawks players.
The reception that Wright’s ceremonial one-day contract that allowed him to retire as a Seahawk — and the ensuing news conference that followed which only further reinforced the admiration in which Wright was held by everyone involved in the franchise — illustrated even more clearly to Barton the legacy he is now being tasked with upholding.
“It was emotional,” Barton said. “I really looked up to him when I was here and seeing his retirement speech, it makes you reflect back on all the things that he’s done. And the biggest thing I took from that is that one of his main things was he wanted to leave an impression as a great teammate and when think of him that’s the first thing that comes to mind is how good of a teammate he was on and off the field and it fires me up because someday I want to be recognized like that.”