Linebacker K.J. Wright is all too easy to take for granted, but he’s a huge reason why the Seahawks’ defense is one of the NFL’s best. One play in preseason illustrates why.
RENTON — K.J. Wright made a play in the preseason so remarkable that every once in a while I’ll find it just to watch it again. That was 10 weeks ago.
This is weird for several reasons, including that K.J. Wright, the Seahawks linebacker, made the play. Wright is a good linebacker, but of all the players on Seattle’s defense to make an unforgettable play, Wright isn’t high on the list.
Not that he’s incapable. But his skillset usually unfolds in subtler ways — ways that teammates appreciate when watching film but fans might miss on TV.
Yet in the second preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 21, Wright made an undeniably striking play. It went like this: Wright blitzed between the left guard and the left tackle. No one touched him along the line, in large part because the Chiefs were setting up a screen to running back Jamaal Charles away from Wright.
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Wright started toward the quarterback, but he saw Charles slipping out of the backfield and changed course. It was stunning in its swiftness.
Wright tackled Charles, one of the NFL’s fastest and most dangerous running backs on screens, for a loss of 6 yards.
“K.J.’s the screen master,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Everybody has their niche, man, and that’s his niche. He’s always the first person to tackle a screen. Sometimes he beats the screen before it ever happens. It’s really dope to see when they try to run a screen and he’s there.”
It was only the preseason, but the play foreshadowed what Wright has done this regular season, which is play the best football of his five-year career. That’s backed up by the analysts at Pro Football Focus, who rate Wright as the NFL’s No. 2 linebacker. And it’s backed up by coach Pete Carroll and Wright’s teammates.
“The most important thing you’re seeing is his confidence,” safety Earl Thomas said. “He really believes in himself. He didn’t know how good he was when he first started. But I can just see it in his eyes. I can feel it. And when he’s on, bro, that’s just another dimension to this team that people don’t understand. He’s really, really, really valuable.”
Wright does not have a sack this year. He does not have an interception and, believe it or not, has only one in his career.
But Wright elevated his games in most other areas. He is having his best season in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. He has missed only one tackle. He said before the season that he gave up too many touchdowns in 2014, and he hasn’t allowed one this year.
Wright’s long arms and big body allow him to gobble up space and attack passes. But he is also recognizing routes and anticipating where he should position himself.
“He’s definitely got a lot faster, too,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “It’s making him able to use the range he already has with his body and just really take up a lot of space.”
Wright does much of his damage in the shadows of the action. The Seahawks try to force the action back inside to the middle of the field. Wright is Seattle’s leading tackler, but he can be just as effective when he engages a blocker and forces the ball carrier inside.
“This defense is set up for our middle linebacker to have a lot of success,” Thomas said. “When K.J. is playing the weakside, it allows Bobby to be so aggressive inside. It allows Bobby to be himself. They play off each other. They’re connected like that.
“The little things that people don’t see shows up big in team meetings when you’re watching the film,” Thomas continued. “You’re like, ‘I appreciate this guy because he’s really on it.’ This defense is a system defense. When you create within your position by being smart and understanding situational football and understanding concepts based on alignments, it’s out of the ordinary. It looks normal to people watching, but it’s out of the ordinary because people don’t even see it.”
If that sounds vanilla, it is. But those subtleties are essential to the defense’s success, and Wright is playing his role more consistently than at any point in his career.