RENTON — On draft night, when the Seahawks took Cody Barton in the third round with the 88th overall pick out of Utah, coach Pete Carroll said the plan was to use him initially at weakside linebacker.
“I was like ‘OK, I’m cool with that,’’’ Barton said Saturday.
But truth be told, while he is willing to do whatever the Seahawks ask, the weakside spot is not where his heart is.
So as good as the last week has been, it became even better when he got on the field Friday for the beginning of the team’s rookie minicamp and the team told him to line up at middle linebacker, where he has played for almost every snap of the first two days of the three-day camp.
“I love it,’’ Barton said. “My last year at Utah that’s what I was. So I love (middle linebacker). … I like being off the ball and being able to diagnose from the middle of field, and also I like being that the Mike calls the plays and is the vocal point in the middle of field. So I like being the leader in the middle and just calling things out and talking about when I see, and with me and Ben out there, we’re just talking back and forth, seeing what we see. I just like being that centerpiece.”
Putting Barton in the middle, though, has meant that for now, Washington’s Ben Burr-Kirven is a weakside linebacker.
Burr-Kirvin played mostly the middle for the Huskies, so not only is he making a big leap from college to the NFL but also now an adjustment in position.
“It’s pretty different, honestly,’’ Burr-Kirven said. “At UW I was playing the true middle spot. I’m playing the (weakside) here which is a little bit different, so I’m doing a little bit more stuff outside the box, getting out on receivers, that kind of stuff. So there is definitely differences.
“. … It’s just playing in space more. Mike (middle) you are really in the box sifting through traffic more. At the (weakside) you are more in space, playing running backs in the flat, covering receivers a little bit. So just a little bit more of a space-driven game.’’
The Seahawks have said that each will eventually learn every linebacker spot, and the pairing for now may be in part about simply finding the best way to get the two used to playing on the field together.
Burr-Kirven sees the value in that.
“When you play linebacker I think it is one of the most important positions to really build a relationship with the guy you are playing next to because so much of what you do is predicated by what he is doing,’’ said Burr-Kirven, listed by the Seahawks at 6-foot, 230.
The fierce UW-Utah Pac-12 rivalry meant that the two have known of each other for years.
But they never really talked until the NFL scouting combine, when they spent four days together with the rest of the linebackers going through drills, meetings and workouts.
Working with the 6-2, 237-pound Barton for a few days with the Seahawks has only enhanced Burr-Kirven’s admiration of his new teammate.
“He’s asking questions about stuff we haven’t even put in yet,’’ Burr-Kirven said. “So just the way his mind is working he is just ahead of the game, every day a little bit farther ahead than anybody else. He just wants to be that guy that runs that show.’’
Barton got an iPad from the Seahawks with the playbook shortly after the draft. His initial thought, he said, was “kind of just like ‘what the hell?’’’
A phone call with linebackers coach Ken Norton helped clarify what the team wanted him to study, and Barton said he then just started taking “tons of notes. Just notes and notes and notes for hours.’’
The studying has appeared to pay off as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on Friday said he was amazed at the command Barton and Burr-Kirven had of the defense and their ability to get everyone lined up correctly.
“Both he (Burr-Kirven) and Cody were really impressive just throughout the first day to have so much command of what we were doing,” Carroll said. “I kind of tie those guys together, that they’re impressive just going to be able to learn the whole thing.”
There’s a long ways to go, of course, for each to prove themselves as NFL players.
But should the team think that Barton and Burr-Kirven can be a viable inside linebacker tandem it could have some pretty interesting implications going forward.
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is entering the final season of his contract, and the thought is the team would like to give him an extension this offseason. But intriguingly, Wagner told the NFL Network Saturday he has not had any contract negotiations with the Seahawks (he is representing himself) and is preparing as if the 2019 season will be his last in Seattle.
“I want to retire a Seahawk, but I understand it’s a business,” Wagner said, via NFL.com, during an interview at Wagner’s high school alma mater, Colony High in Ontario, Calif. “I’m preparing like this is my last year as a Seahawk. If it is, I want to make sure I go out with a bang and make sure I give the city something to remember.”
Seattle also re-signed both of veteran weakside linebackers K.J. Wright (two year deal) and Mychal Kendricks (one year) this offseason. But neither is guaranteed to be with the team beyond the 2019 season.
And Shaquem Griffin was drafted a year ago with the thought he’d be groomed as a potential replacement for Wright at weakside linebacker. He will apparently stay at WLB but the Seahawks have said they will also explore ways to get him on the field in some specialty pressure packages.
The Seahawks said they weren’t making any statements about their current linebackers in drafting Barton and Burr-Kirven — each inside the first 142 picks overall — but just taking advantage of what they felt was a good group of players available this year.
“This year’s (linebacker) class was much better than last year’s,’’ Seattle general manager John Schneider said on draft day.
Seattle, though, hadn’t drafted a linebacker since 2014 before taking Griffin last season. Now, for the first time in a while, the Seahawks have a few young players to groom as backups — and maybe potential replacements some day — at the two inside linebacking spots.
Wagner and Wright have been paired as Seattle’s inside linebacker tandem since 2013 (Wright spent his first two years playing primarily strongside linebacker with Leroy Hill at the WLB spot).
It’s been as successful of a linebacker pairing as any in Seahawks history, and figures to continue for at least another year.
But for how long may depend on what the Seahawks see out of Barton and Burr-Kirven this year.
“I think it’s been great we’ve got to go out pretty much every rotation together and just start building that chemistry,’’ Burr-Kirven said. “And hopefully we can keep playing together for a while.’’