Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright didn’t get everything exactly, well, right during the game Sunday against Miami, unable to control any of the three Dolphins passes he had his hands on.
“I’ve gotta catch them,’’ Wright admitted when he talked to media members via Zoom after the game, before vowing that, with 12 games remaining he still has time to make amends.
“My goal is to get five this year, so I’m going to make it up,’’ Wright said following Seattle’s 31-23 victory.
In a far more important way, though, Wright has gotten it exactly, well, right this season, willingly accepting a move to strongside linebacker the past two weeks as Seattle has had to rearrange its linebacking corps after losing Bruce Irvin for the season due to injury.
Wright has played mostly weakside linebacker since 2013 and has said that’s where he prefers to play. In fact, he spent most of his first two seasons in 2011 and 2012 at strongside linebacker — which requires more playing on the line of scrimmage — before moving to the WLB spot (where he is off the ball) in part because he asked the team to consider it.
But this year, once Irvin was injured, it made sense to leave first-round draft choice Jordyn Brooks at the weakside spot, where he had been practicing, and move Wright. And Sunday, with Brooks out with a knee injury, the team’s preference again was to use Cody Barton at WLB — where he has his most experience — to replace Brooks and move Wright.
Wright, the team’s longest-tenured player, taken in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, has put up no fight to the switch. Monday, that compelled coach Pete Carroll to give him about the highest compliment possible.
“He’s a perfect teammate,’’ Carroll said. “He really is a perfect teammate. … When the situation comes up, and the team needs something, of course he’s going to do the right thing.’’
But as Carroll noted, it’s one thing to make a move, another to make it work.
“He’s really not just survived it,’’ Carroll said. “He’s excelling and doing great.’’
Indeed, while catching one or two of the passes that hit his hands might have been nice, Wright still was one of the best players on the field Sunday.
Along with the three pass breakups, Wright also had eight tackles and a forced fumble.
It’s not just the conventional stats that show Wright playing well, though.
According to the analytic site Pro Football Focus, Wright is the third-highest graded Seahawk so far this season, behind only Russell Wilson and Duane Brown. PFF has Wright as the sixth-highest graded linebacker in the NFL and with the sixth-best coverage grade of any linebacker and seventh-best run defense grade of any linebacker.
“He has been really active,’’ Carroll said. “Playing on the edge seems to put him in position to see some things a little bit differently and he’s able to be a factor in a lot of stuff.”
Wright still gets some snaps at weakside linebacker in the nickel package, as well.
The Seahawks usually take the strongside linebacker off the field in the nickel package — with Irvin, he simply moved up to a pass-rush role on those plays. But the past two weeks, Seattle has taken out Brooks and Barton in the nickel and kept Wright on the field (he played all but three of the 71 defensive snaps Sunday).
“We’ve got to get him to catch the football,’’ Carroll said. “But other than that, he was all over it and played a great game.’’
That makes it worth remembering there was a lot of speculation in the offseason whether Wright would be with the team at all this season.
Wright turned 31 in July and entered this season with a contract that put him at risk of being a salary cap casualty as Seattle could have saved $6.5 million if he was released.
When the team drafted Brooks, it wasn’t hard to put two and two together and wonder if Wright would be back, especially because he had shoulder surgery in the offseason and also had knee surgery in 2018.
But Wright recovered quickly enough from the shoulder surgery that he was ready for camp from Day 1, and from Day 1 he was back in his usual spot in the starting lineup while knowing all along that the team could ask him to move.
“When we lost Bruce that’s when we moved him,’’ Carroll said. “He said, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do.’ ’’
When Wright signed his current contract in the spring of 2019 — when he admitted for a few days he didn’t know if he’d be back with the Seahawks — Wright said he was glad to get the deal done and assure 10 years in the NFL.
Sunday, Wright sounded like he’s ready to play a whole lot more.
“I believe that when I look back at my career, I’m gonna be very happy,’’ he said. “I believe that in my 10th year to look the way I’m looking, I’m truly thankful. I look excellent. I look great. And I’m thankful that I’m healthy and still balling. And to play 10 years in this league, to play 10 years with the Seahawks and to look this good, I couldn’t ask for a better career. So I’m just getting started. We got a long ways to go, and I’ve got to make sure I finish strong.’’