Quick. Who led the Seahawks in tackles last season? Hold that thought. Who led the team in forced fumbles? Which of the linebackers had the most passes defensed? Finally, and this is a tough one, who led the Seahawks in stops (the number of solo defensive tackles made which constitute an offensive failure, including sacks), per ProFootballFocus.com? If your answer was K.J. Wright for each and every one of those, you are among the precious few people who saw past all the notoriety surrounding his teammates. Wright was a guy I picked to pop two years ago and reach Pro Bowl status. It never happened. He has been one of the two best players on the defense this preseason. His time in the shadows may be coming to an end.
Fast learner, slow burner
Wright was drafted in the fourth round in 2011. Pete Carroll originally talked about his interest in seeing what Wright might do as a LEO pass rusher. At 6’4″ 246 lbs, with impossibly long arms, he fit the lanky mold of an edge rusher that Carroll looks for.
When Wright hit the field for rookie camp, however, Carroll and linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. immediately liked his potential more as a linebacker. They raved about how quick of a learner he was, and pushed him to learn multiple spots in training camp.
That cross-training proved useful when starting middle linebacker David Hawthorne was unable to start the season opener. The precocious rookie stepped in and made his first NFL start on the road playing in the middle of the defense, making the calls. His new linebacker coach, Lofa Tatupu, would have been proud.
Wright played well. So well, in fact, that the team felt compelled to trade away former top pick Aaron Curry to clear the path for him to become a full-time starter. It was the type of ascendency that accompanies future NFL difference makers.
Wright returned the next season stronger and determined. He now had the dominant physical tools to couple with his uncommon understanding of the playbook. Everything seemed to point to greatness. Instead, he never quite eclipsed the level of quality starter.
The Seahawks 2014 season was crowded with storylines. People wanted to know if this team still had the hunger and could repeat. Percy Harvin was punching and parting. Bobby Wagner got hurt, and Kam Chancellor took most of the season to recover from hip surgery. When the team became unbeatable the final six games of the year, it was Wagner and Chancellor who got most of the credit.
The soft-spoken Wright simply led the best defense in the NFL in tackles and forced fumbles. His 107 tackles were a career-high.
There is not a lot of flash to Wright’s game. He simply is where he is supposed to be and almost always makes the plays he is supposed to make. That may soon be an outdated description.
Wright has been anything but understated this preseason. He made a play against Kansas City that is rarely seen. The Chiefs setup Jamaal Charles for a screen pass on the side opposite Wright. Before the ball was even thrown, he recognized what was happening and started sprinting on a line toward Charles. The ball had barely arrived at the speedy running backs hands when Wright hogtied him for a loss.
It was explosive. It was dominant. It was everything Wright had not been in his previous four seasons. That play stood out, but it was just one of a series of standout plays for Wright. As fun as it was to see Wright play so well, it was still just one game.
Cue week three. Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers were marching down the field with little dink and dunk passes that left a series of third and short yardage plays for the veteran signal caller to convert. A short pass on second down to Stevie Johnson left just a single yard for a first down at the Seahawks 13 yard line.
Rivers saw a chance to hurry up to the line and catch the Seahawks off-guard. Wright sniffed it out and timed the snap perfectly, knifing into the backfield and pulling down Danny Woodhead for a loss. Fourth down.
Again, Wright was making a play that demanded attention. It demonstrated a willingness to take a risk and trust his preparation and instincts. Great players make great plays not only because they are blessed with overwhelming physical gifts. They often make great plays because they operate outside the rhythm of the game at just the right time. It is like a DJ who knows when to scratch, and when to let the music flow.
Great players make great plays not only because they are blessed with overwhelming physical gifts. They often make great plays because they operate outside the rhythm of the game at just the right time. It is like a DJ who knows when to scratch, and when to let the music flow.
Wright looks faster and more violent this preseason. He may just be more aggressive and confident in what he is seeing. The cynical read would be that preseason action means little when projecting regular season performance. My eyes tell me otherwise. A team that is riddled with defensive stars may be about to add another.