For a man who makes his living committing physical violence, Bobby Wagner is one of the most soft-spoken and understated Seahawks.
So when he made a bold statement about the team’s linebacker corps after an offseason workout, it was worth noting that it wasn’t coming from a defender noted for verbal bluster.
“I love the (defensive) line, and the secondary gets a lot of talk, but you will talk about the linebackers this year,” Wagner predicted a few months ago.
True to his word, Wagner gave observers a great deal to discuss when he led the Seahawks with 14 tackles in their 36-16 win over Green Bay in the season opener Thursday. That’s 24 percent of the Seahawk tackles being made by one player.
It’s not unusual for Wagner, who had 15 stops in the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco.
Asked about his prediction after Monday’s practice, Wagner owned it. “I back up my statements,” he said. “It’s just us going out there and playing our game. I feel like we’ve grown and we’re going on our third year together. We’ve got good chemistry and it’s time to show it.”
It’s more about extolling the linebacking corps virtues than knocking the other defensive units, who helped make the Seahawks the top defense in the NFL in 2013.
“We’ve got a great group of guys in back of us and a great group of guys in front of us,” he said. “So, we’re just trying to hold up our end of the bargain.”
Wagner has been doing far more than that since he arrived, a second-round draft pick in 2012 out of Utah State. He stepped into a starting role immediately, developed a grasp of the defense, and went on to set a rookie record for tackles with 140. It earned him recognition as Defensive Rookie of the Year from Sports Illustrated.
Veteran linebacker Heath Farwell saw Wagner arrive fully equipped with all the tools he’d need to succeed.
“He always had the ability,” Farwell said. “We new he had the talent, and once he learned the scheme he could put it all together. We knew his upside was unbelievable. So it isn’t surprising to us at all that he ends up where he is.”
And where is that?
“He’s going to have a breakout year, a Pro Bowl season,” Farwell said. “There’s no question in my mind. He’s all over the field. He’s ready for an amazing season.”
It didn’t start off that way, as Wagner suffered a hamstring injury during an early scrimmage in training camp. He ended up missing the first three preseason games.
“(I was) just doing my best to stay in shape and take real good care of my body,” Wagner said. “I wasn’t getting the running that I would have gotten in practice, so I stayed in the pool and I did a lot of running after practice the week after I got back.”
During practices, he took what he called “mental reps,” to stay assignment sharp. And he spent time studying films. But he also served as an unofficial assistant coach, helping rookie middle linebacker Brock Coyle learn the tricks of the middle-linebacker business.
“We’re only as good as our weakest link,” Wagner said. “When (Coyle) came in, I wanted to do my job to kind of teach him the things I learned my rookie year and last year. As many questions as he asked me, I tried to answer them the best I could and try to help him do a great job.”
The Seahawks led the NFL in total defensive yards and scoring defense last season, and then shut down the record-setting Denver offense in the Super Bowl. Even the reticent Wagner says that’s not enough, that this defense continues to aim higher.
“We talk about being the best, and we go out there all the time wanting to back up our bold statements that we’re the best,” Wagner said. “That’s how we prepare in practice. We practice so well that I feel like the games come easier to us. That’s something we pride ourselves on.
“Every time we step on the field is an opportunity to show that we’re a really good defense and we’re not going to be really good just one year, but for a long time.”