RENTON – It has been two months since the Seattle Seahawks traded high-priced linebacker Aaron Curry to Oakland.
One of the reasons Seattle felt comfortable making that move was the play of K.J. Wright, the team’s fourth-round selection in this year’s draft.
The former Mississippi State player had been solid since taking over at outside linebacker for Curry, but he hadn’t made any “wow” plays. That changed on Monday against the Rams. Wright had a breakout performance, finishing with eight tackles – including three for losses – a sack and two quarterback hurries. Wright also nearly intercepted a Sam Bradford pass in the flat.
“He keeps showing up,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “Not maybe the spectacular plays, but tackles at the line of scrimmage and aggressive hits; some great tackles in pursuit and, of course, the sack was good. He missed a chance at (another) sack, too.
“So he’s around the action a lot – made the great play on the screen play. There are just a lot of really cool things he did in this game.”
Wright, in 10 starts, is tied for fifth on the team with 46 tackles.
“Each game I’ve improved,” Wright said. “Every game I learn from my mistakes from the previous game. And I just come out for every game and try to do the best I can, try to stay mistake-free and make as many plays as I can.”
One of the things Seattle has been impressed with is Wright’s ability to adapt to different situations and pick things up quickly. Although they drafted him to play outside linebacker, the Seahawks put Wright at middle linebacker at the beginning of training camp, and he started there for David Hawthorne in the first game of the season at San Francisco.
Currently, Hawthorne leads Seattle in tackles for the third straight season with 88. But Hawthorne has been slowed by a left-knee sprain, and his contract is up at the end of the season.
Wright, who’s signed through 2014, could be a cheaper option at middle linebacker, giving the Sea-hawks some leverage in negotiations with Hawthorne.
However, despite his current knee issues Hawthorne has proved durable – he has missed just five games in his four-year career. And at 26 years old, the TCU product is considered one of the leaders and core players in Seattle’s steadily improving defense.
Veteran linebacker Leroy Hill, third on the team in tackles with 76, also will be a free agent at the end of this season.
Carroll said he’s still figuring out where Wright’s best spot is on the field.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Carroll said. “That’s a good question. Right now, if we need him inside he’s going to (give us) first-flight play there, and he’s going to play excellent football for us outside, so you think about how valuable he is in such a short time.
“He’s a unique kid, and he’s learned so much and it’s come so easy to him. We were surprised by that early on, but now it’s just a big positive for us.”
But Wright had a definitive answer.
“I’m liking the Sam (strong-side outside linebacker) right now,” Wright said. “I’m able to run, and I’m on the edge moving around a lot.”
In 2005, offensive lineman Chris Spencer was drafted No. 25 overall by the Seahawks as the team’s center of the future behind Rob Tobeck, who retired two years later.
But after six years of so-so play in Seattle, Spencer signed a two-year, $6 million free-agent deal with the Bears, where former Seahawks president of football operations Tim Ruskell is now in charge of the scouting department.
“It was my home for six years and I really enjoyed Seattle,” Spencer told the Chicago Tribune. “The fans were awesome to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up staying there. But here I am on another team, getting a chance to play them. I’m pretty excited about it.”
Spencer always considered himself a center, but Seattle offensive line coach and assistant head coach Tom Cable liked Max Unger coming out of the University of Oregon when Cable was head coach in Oakland. And once Cable arrived in Seattle, he determined that Unger would be the team’s starting center.
Spencer bristled at the idea of playing guard in Seattle but now finds himself having started 11 games at right guard for the Bears.
Seahawks defensive lineman Red Bryant faced Spencer daily in practice during pass-protection and run drills. He’ll now line up against his former teammate for the first time in a game situation.
“It’s definitely going to be weird seeing him over there,” Bryant said. “Me and Chris, we became friends while we were here, so it’s going to be awkward a little bit.”
So, will Bryant have a few words to say to his former teammate in-between whistles, or will he let his play do the talking?
“We’re going to play,” Bryant said. “But every now and then I might give him a shove after the whistle, just to say, ‘Hey, we’re up’ – just to let him know. But it’s going to be good.”
Leroy Hill was selected by the Seahawks in the same draft as Spencer, in 2005, in the third round.
“It will be good to see him,” Hill said. “I’m happy he got a chance to go somewhere and get a new start. And on film he’s been doing his thing, too. So it will actually be a challenge for us.”
The Seattle Seahawks could be starting their seventh different offensive line combination on Sunday against Chicago.
Offensive guard Robert Gallery missed practice for a second straight day on Thursday with a hip ailment. Allen Barbre worked at left guard with the first unit in Gallery’s place.
Also sitting out for a second straight day was defensive end Raheem Brock (calf). New among players sitting out were cornerback Richard Sherman (knee) and offensive lineman Jarriel King (hamstring). Sherman missed some practice time last week with a calf injury.
Receiver Doug Baldwin (ankle) and linebacker Hawthorne (hamstring) returned to practice and were full participants. And quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (pectoral), linebacker Hill (neck) and cornerback Kennard Cox (hamstring) were full participants. For Chicago, quarterback Jay Cutler (broken thumb), running back Matt Forte (knee), defensive tackle Henry Melton (shin), cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) and receiver Sam Hurd (non-injury related) did not practice. Offensive lineman Edwin Williams (calf) and safety Major Wright (shoulder) were limited.
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks