A reporter walks up to Seahawks linebacker coach Ken Norton and says: “Coach, if you’ve got a minute, I’d like to talk to you for a column I’m doing about K.J. Wright.”
Norton: “Oh, yeahhhh … well it’s about time, ’cause he’s going to have a huge, breakout season.”
It triggered a series of tributes and laudatory assessments that were so thorough and articulate there was little need for follow-up questions.
“You see, this kid is the master of everything he does,” Norton said. “He’s my best cover guy and my best tackler; he’s my best general on the field at understanding what the offense is doing; he’s my best rusher.
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“He does it all, and he can play everywhere — Sam, Mike and Will (linebacker positions) — at any moment. And he can do it better than anybody. This kid is amazing.”
Norton should be considered an expert on such things, having had a 13-year NFL career at linebacker with three Super Bowl titles.
Like a gifted press agent, Norton continue recounting the way Wright jumped in to start at middle linebacker as a rookie when David Hawthorne was injured, and later took over the starting job at strong-side linebacker when Aaron Curry faltered. And the last two seasons, to meet a team need, he shifted to weakside linebacker without losing a step.
“From Day One, we could see he has the make-up, the temperament, the smarts, the toughness and the enthusiasm, and when you put it together, you see that he’s ready for a breakout year,” Norton said. “This is a very special man.”
Wright grins when told of the compliments, and doesn’t back away from the prospect of his emergence this season.
“I’m really excited to see what this season holds for me,” he said. “I’m feeling better, I’m healthy, I’m hitting people better.”
Wright, at 6-4, 250 pounds, is extraordinarily lanky for a linebacker, but it allows him to not only cover ground, but also range high and wide for interceptions. In one recent practice session, he picked off a pair of passes.
And, he says, he’s in the best condition of his career.
“I wasn’t eating the way I was supposed to, but I changed my diet so I’m eating much, much better. I stayed here and worked out the way I did last season, and I feel much better. I’m leaner and was able to work out more this offseason.”
The offseason two years ago, he had to rehab following a wrist surgery. Last season, he missed the last three games of the regular season when he broke his foot in the game at San Francisco.
“That was tough; I heard it break and I was like ‘Aw, it’s over,’ ” he said. “They had to put a big screw in there.”
Wright’s predicted recovery time was four to six weeks and he made it in four, playing in the NFC title game and then starting in the Super Bowl, where he came up with seven tackles.
Watching teammates prepare for big games from the training room was a challenge, he said, but “I worked my butt off and thanks to my trainers, I was able to get back pretty fast.”
Now Wright is one of the few healthy linebackers, as Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith have missed all or most of training camp. Still, he expects a productive season from the linebackers corps.
“I expect us to be the best group on the field this year,” Wright said, fully aware that the Seattle secondary, tabbed the Legion of Boom, is considered by many as the best unit in the NFL. “It’s OK if they know it, because we’re going to show it. We all just want to be the best — everybody on that team wants that. That’s what makes this team so special.”
Wright is operating in the final year of his rookie contract and, without an extension, will be come an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. If he has the kind of season Norton is predicting, any number of teams will be delighted to make him a very wealthy man.
“It is what it is,” Wright said. “We’ll see what happens. This is my last year and I want to stay here, and if they want me here, they’ll find a way to make it happen.”
If he needs a reference, he could do a lot worse than Norton.
“This guy doesn’t say much; he just shows up for work and does it better than anybody,” Norton said. “If we had a team filled with K.J. Wrights, man, we’d be pretty good.”